MIAMI -- After graduating from Bemidji High School in 1998, it took some time for Aaron Karger to find his true calling. But once he found it, Karger has taken that passion to great heights, as evidenced by a recent high-profile court decision that has made big headlines in Florida.
Karger, 41, is the founder and managing partner of a law firm in Miami. He represented five sexual abuse victims in an $8.7 million federal settlement against the Miami-Dade County School Board.
The five girls were subjected to sexual harassment, rape and threats by Wendell Nibbs, a physical education teacher at the school from 2003 until his arrest in 2017. Numerous complaints were filed against Nibbs during his tenure at Brownsville Middle School over that time, but Nibbs continued as the girls track coach, teaching physical education, with an office in the girls’ locker room, until 2017.
The first lawsuit was brought in 2018, after one victim and her family retained Karger’s services. By November 2019, four more victims had come forward. The case was decided in their favor in late 2020, and the $8.7 million was distributed to the victims based on extent of the sexual assault and harassment they suffered. The settlement has been identified as one of the Top 10 largest in the state of Florida in 2020.
“My hope is that something like this could never happen again,” Karger said in a phone interview with the Pioneer this week. “That a teacher could never be left unchecked after so many years of having grievances of sexual misconduct brought against him. That no teacher could ever again be left with unfettered access to students and that the numerous grievances would in fact be red flags.”
In the aftermath of the decision, Karger has been featured in newspaper and television reports in the Miami area, along with Pedro Echarte of the Haggard Law Firm, who helped handle the cases. For Karger, it affirms the mission of his practice. He is concentrating his work in the area of personal injury law with a focus on negligent security, as well as intentional torts such as sexual assault and battery.
The victims in the Nibbs case certainly benefited from that.
“It’s been incredibly rewarding,” Karger said. ”There is a new world of resources available to them, for purposes of growth, for purposes of having the ability to improve themselves in a number of ways, educational, therapy, job training, what have you.”
Karger did not plan to pursue a law degree when he left Bemidji in the fall of 1998. He enrolled at Mankato State University (now Minnesota State Mankato), and during his only year on campus he started a Jewish student union, bringing Nobel Peace Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel to Mankato as a speaker.
Karger spent his sophomore year in an exchange program at Florida International University, then finished his undergraduate work at the University of Minnesota, earning a communications degree with a minor in business management.
He had fallen in love with Florida as a student there, and decided to return.
“I really appreciated all Miami had to offer and I wanted more of that experience,” Karger said. “So I up and moved after I had graduated. Many folks probably presumed that I would be back, but in fact I never returned to Minnesota. A lot of doors opened for me in Miami and I sort of embraced all that there was here. I found a barrage of different experiences and cultures to embrace.”
He began a career in real estate, eventually working for one of Miami’s largest developers. But when the real estate boom turned to bust, Karger decided to change course. He enrolled in the Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law, graduating cum laude in 2011. He first served as an Assistant State Attorney for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. Then he joined a boutique law firm, where he litigated commercial and real estate cases, and also got his first taste of personal injury law.
“I started to handle cases in the way of torts, civil wrongs, negligence matters, and really enjoyed that,” Karger said. “I sort of determined that this is the track that I absolutely want to stay on. This tort work was sort of nagging on me because I enjoyed it so much.”
He opened his own practice in 2015, leasing office space in downtown Miami, a block from where he lives and a few blocks from the courthouse where most of his trials are held. He later expanded the practice to North Miami Beach.
Karger has not been able to visit family in Bemidji during the pandemic, but his old hometown is never far from his mind. Among the achievements and awards listed on his website is this last item: “Best Son in the History of the World, (My Mother -- I win this award every year).”
“He put that on there when he opened his practice,” said Karger’s mother, Mary Ann Reitmeir of Bemidji. “Even when they’re in their 40s they’re still your little kids.”