Settlements in civil cases against defunct WV boarding school reach $100 million, attorneys say

By: - August 23, 2023 4:50 pm

Miracle Meadows School, a Christian boarding school in Salem, West Virginia, was shut down in 2014 after multiple allegations of abuse of students. (Forbes Law Offices | Courtesy photo)

Settlements in civil action brought against a now-defunct West Virginia boarding school accused of sexually and physically abusing students over the course of decades now total $100 million, attorneys representing victims say.

The latest lawsuits against the former Miracle Meadows School in Salem, West Virginia, were consolidated in a case filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court in October 2021 by a woman identified by the assumed name H.S. A previous $52 million settlement was reached in 2020. Since the initial lawsuit was filed in 2017, settlements now total $100 million, attorneys say. Additional cases filed under H.S. have yet to be resolved.

In a news release Wednesday, Charleston-based law firms Forbes Law Offices and Hendrickson and Long PLLC, and Philadelphia-based Laffey Bucci and Kent, who represent the plaintiffs, said the amount is believed to be highest recorded in West Virginia for such cases.

Attorneys say hundreds of students suffered “horrifying and unspeakable forms of sexual, physical and psychological mistreatment” at the Miracle Meadows School in Harrison County while the Christian boarding school operated from 1987 to 2014. 

“The abuses suffered by these children wouldn’t be believed in a Steven King novel,” Charleston Attorney Jesse Forbes said in the news release. “To know that they actually happened in the West Virginia hills is absolutely devastating. Children deserve to be loved, nurtured and treated with care, not handcuffed, abused and thrown in isolation cells with a coffee can for a bathroom. To do this once is beyond shocking, but to do it to hundreds of children for decades is truly unfathomable.”

Authorities tried to investigate Miracle Meadows for years, attorneys said, but it was difficult to see those investigations through because alleged perpetrators were often brought to the school on work visas and sent back to their homes before law enforcement could question them, the attorneys said. 

The school was shuttered in 2014 after a student poisoned themselves with a cleaning agent, attorneys said, and then begged medical staff for help, prompting them to alert authorities.

The H.S. case involved “significant abuse” suffered by the woman and other children while they were enrolled at the school over the course of years, the lawsuit says. The abuse include mistreatment, child sexual abuse, confinement to a windowless room at times without heat or air conditioning, lighting, sanitation and adequate food and water. Defendants committed child labor violations, the lawsuit says, mistreated and failed to educate H.S., causing physical harm, vocational impairment and emotional and mental distress. 

The lawsuit lists as defendants the school, founder and director Susan Gayle Clark, the Columbia Union Conference Association of Seventh Day Adventists, Mountain View Conference Association of Seventh Day Adventists, and the North American Division of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

In an answer to the lawsuit, the former school denied the allegations. Its attorney, Charleston lawyer Jennifer Tully, did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday. 

In 2016, Clark was sentenced in Harrison County to six months in jail for misdemeanor child neglect creating risk of injury and 30 days for failure to report.


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Lori Kersey
Lori Kersey

Lori Kersey is a reporter with a decade of experience reporting in West Virginia. She covers state government for West Virginia Watch.