When we send our children to school, we assume that school officials will take proper precautions to make sure our kids are safe. In Lyons v. Richmond Cmty. Sch. Corp, a case from the Indiana Supreme Court, plaintiff was the parent of a 17-year-old high school student with Down syndrome who was considered severely disabled. She had trouble eating and failed to chew her food or frequently took too many bites before attempting to swallow.
A contractor hired by the state worked with her school to develop a safety plan for the girl, which included a requirement that staff monitor her closely at every meal or snack. She was never to be left alone while eating. Specifically, the plan said the girl tended to shove food into her mouth and will choke if not carefully supervised. She required constant monitoring and verbal prompts to slow down. Additionally, the school had an established procedure that required staff to cut up all the girl’s food.
Our Boston child injury attorneys know well the serious injury or death of a child is perhaps the most traumatic experience a family can endure. Sadly, the family of this girl now knows it all too well.
In January of 2008, a paraprofessional was assigned to monitor the girl. This was her first time supervising the girl during lunch, and she was unaware of the plan and did not cut her sandwich into small pieces. When the girl started choking, her monitor ran to get the assistant principal in the hallway. She was unable to get his attention and got someone else to help, who began pounding on the girl’s back. Monitor returned with another assistant principal, who also pounded on the girl’s back.
The assistant principal from the hallway finally came to help. Nobody tried to perform the Heimlich maneuver or CPR, or as instructed by school policy, called 911. The school health teacher, who was responsible for training students in CPR, was in the cafeteria at the time, but did not offer any assistance.
After three to four minutes of choking, someone contacted the school nurse, who gathered a first aid kit and prepared a bag of ice. She arrived 10 minutes after being summoned and removed a tennis ball-sized club of bread from the girl’s mouth but was unable to clear her airway. Nurse told someone to call 911 and the call was made more than 14 minutes after the girl began choking. EMS workers arrived within three minutes and cleared her airway on the way to the hospital.
School officials held a meeting and told cafeteria workers that if they spoke about this incident to anyone they would be fired immediately. The school also discussed the video footage that captured the incident and noted that it was only preserved for 90 days to save hard drive space. No one ever downloaded the video or preserved it. Three days later, the student died.
Her mother, “plaintiff,” filed a negligence claim against defendant and requested the video from school officials. The court denied this request and held that defendant did not owe plaintiff a duty to preserve the video. The court granted summary judgment in favor of defendant and dismissed the case.
On appeal, the court found that trial judge had erred in many aspects with respect to his ruling. The court held that defendant had potentially fraudulently concealed evidence, and there was no way plaintiff could have known about their actions during the immediate aftermath of the incident.
Therefore, the court reversed summary judgment favoring the defense, and granted plaintiff the opportunity to proceed with her case to trial.
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Lyons v. Richmond Cmty. Sch. Corp., October 28, 2014, Supreme Court of Indiana
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