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How much did KHSD's chicken suit victim take home after legal fees?

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In June, attorney Nicholas Rowley donned this costume to make a point during closing arguments in the case of his client Mitch Carter versus the Kern High School District. Carter was roughed up while wearing the same chicken outfit at a 2010 BHS pep rally skit meant to mock Clovis West High School’s mascot.

Mitch Carter, the former Bakersfield High School senior who infamously donned a chicken costume during a 2010 pep rally and then got pummeled by his teammates, gave up almost half his $10.5 million settlement to pay legal fees, according to documents reviewed by The Californian.

The Kern High School District settled for $10,582,687 mid-trial Aug. 2, after a jury decided the district was liable for brain damage Carter sustained. Jurors hadn’t yet determined damages.

Carter’s legal team — which consists of Bakersfield-based Ralph Wegis, Long Beach-based The Law Offices of Joseph Low, and Beverly Hills-based Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley — received roughly $4 million, Wegis said.

Another $1 million was paid in cash to Carter, part of which he used to pay off medical debt. Carter put the remaining $5,575,000 into annuities to be disbursed until he's 60, according to a legal settlement obtained by The Californian through a California Public Records Act request. 

Here’s how the settlement payments to Carter break down:

$1,297,755 was paid to Pacific Life & Annuity Services to fund an annuity that gives Carter:

  • $3,000 monthly for 36 months beginning Sept. 1, 2016, with the last payment being made Aug. 1, 2019.
  • A $300,000 lump sum payable Aug. 1, 2019.
  • $5,000 monthly for 36 months beginning Sept. 1, 2019, with the last payment Aug. 1, 2022.
  • A $300,000 lump sum payable Aug 1, 2022.
  • $9,000 monthly for 60 months beginning Sept. 1, 2022, with the last payment on Aug. 1, 2027.

The lion’s share of Carter’s portion — $4,277,245 — was paid to BHG Structured Settlements to fund an annuity through Berkshire Hathaway Life Insurance Company of Nebraska to be paid out after Carter turns 35. That’s when his payments accelerate.

  • A $300,000 lump sum payable Aug. 1, 2027.
  • $10,000 monthly for 60 months beginning Sept. 1, 2027, with the last payment ending Aug. 1, 2032.
  • A $500,000 lump sum paid Aug. 1, 2032.
  • $12,075 monthly for 240 months beginning Sept. 1, 2032, with the last payment on Aug. 1, 2052.
  • A $1.3 million lump sum payable Aug. 1, 2037.
  • A $2.1 million lump sum payable Aug. 1, 2042.

Taking a structured settlement gives Carter $9,126,000 in total payments over his lifetime, even though KHSD's insurers paid those financial groups less than $5.6 million.

That’s because financial groups take that money and invest it, paying Carter almost 40 percent more than he invested because the future value of the principal is higher than the payout.

Garro Ellis, a financial adviser at Moneywise Wealth Management, explained it like this: “If you won a $12 million lottery, you could take a $7 million lump sum or $460,000 over 26 years. The (annuity company) is taking $7 million to buy an annuity to pay you the $12 million over time. They’re not giving you $12 million. They’re paying it over 26 years, but what’s the present value of $12 million today?”

KHSD’s insurance carriers, Everest National Insurance Company and Self Insured Schools of California, paid the settlement. Everest paid $10 million, while SISC covered the remainder.

Carter’s civil suit, which was heard in Kern County Superior Court in July, was sparked by what happened at a pep rally six years earlier when a BHS athletics director allegedly told him to put on a chicken costume. It was meant to mock the Clovis West Golden Eagle mascot the afternoon of a pivotal football game.

But things went awry when football players, cheerleaders and fans from the stands mobbed Carter. His attorneys said jurors were prepared to award Carter more than $45 million, but that money would have been tied up in appeals for years.

Carter needed the money immediately for treatment of his brain injury, his lawyers said.

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