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Florida school district pays $800,000 for child’s death

In a case that’s lasted over a year, a Florida school district has agreed to pay $800,000 to the parents of a 7-year-old girl. The special needs student went into respiratory failure on her way home from her Riverview school in Jan. 2012. According to her mother, no one called 911 to assist the child until she reached the scene and did it herself. The girl died the following day.

The youngster suffered from a neuromuscular condition that affected her ability to sit. Her parents say she was not properly placed in her wheelchair, which is why she developed difficulty breathing. Reportedly, as she struggled to breathe, neither the driver nor another employee called for emergency assistance. When they were unable to reach their supervisor, they called the girl’s mother. By the time she arrived and called for help, more than eight minutes had elapsed since her daughter went into distress. Video from the bus captured the disturbing incident. When she arrived at the hospital, the girl was unresponsive.

Many school board members were reportedly not even aware of the child’s death until the parents filed their suit later that year. About that same time, an 11-year-old girl drowned when she wandered into a pond behind another school in the same district. The district settled with the family of the girl, who had Down syndrome, for over $500,000.

Although the district sought to have this suit heard in state court as a negligence case, the family’s lawyers argued that what happened to the victim was just one tragic incident in a pattern of “deliberate indifference” by the school district in Hillsborough County to the special needs children in its care. The number of these children in the district has grown significantly within the last decade. Currently, almost 500 are transported to and from school. The plaintiffs’ lawyers cited incidents of death and injury going back more than a decade and continuing after the 7-year-old’s death.

The district says it has worked to improve employee training and other safety aspects of its Exceptional Student Education program since the deaths of these two girls. Sadly, sometimes it is only because of the perseverance of family members to fight until they have obtained some measure of justice for the wrongful death of a loved one that necessary changes are made — changes that can help, and maybe even save, countless others.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, “$800K deal reached over student who stopped breathing on bus” Marlene Sokol, Mar. 26, 2014

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