The parents of a 12 year-old boy who died in September 2010 from acute cardiac arrest have filed suit against the school district where the child was enrolled, the child’s P.E. teacher, and two doctors who treated him. The lawsuit alleges negligence against the school district and teacher for failing to exercise reasonable care in the child’s physical education, and it alleges that the doctors were negligent in their prescribed restrictions on the child’s physical activities.
The child suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes thickening of the heart muscle, according to court documents. This makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood efficiently. The congenital condition can result in sudden cardiac arrest and death, and is a leading cause of heart-related death among young athletes. The lawsuit alleges that, while temperatures in Los Angeles were at a record high of 107 degrees in September 2010, the school and P.E. teacher required the child to participate in physical education classes. The school and teacher allegedly knew about the child’s heart condition. The child allegedly suffered cardiac arrest on the morning of September 28, 2010 during his physical education, while under the teacher’s supervision. He died shortly afterwards.
The primary claim of the lawsuit is negligence. To prevail on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must prove four elements: (1) the defendant owed a duty of care, (2) the defendant breached that duty, (3) the breach caused injury to the plaintiff, and (4) plaintiff has suffered damages as a direct result. The plaintiffs have also claimed negligence by medical professionals, which is a higher standard of negligence. Ordinarily, a negligence claim requires proof of a duty of care for a reasonable person. Medical malpractice imposes a higher standard of care on doctors and other medical professionals because of their specialized training. Since the school district and teacher named in the lawsuit care for children in the course of their daily professional duties, a court might apply a higher standard of care to them than it might to a person not accustomed to dealing with children. The lawsuit specifically alleges failure to follow the requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which addresses protection of children with disabilities.
The lawsuit claims that the school district and the teacher were negligent due to their failure to use reasonable care in the child’s physical education, given their knowledge of his condition. They defendants allegedly knew, or should have known, that his condition could result in serious injury or death during strenuous physical activity. The defendant had a duty to provide care for the child while taking his heart condition into account. They breached that duty, says the lawsuit, by making him participate in physical education class, leading to his death.
The lawsuit further claims that the two physicians named as defendants breached a duty of care by failing to provide the school and the child’s parents with sufficient guidance as to the child’s care, inappropriately removing restrictions on the child’s activities, and failing to provide the child with a needed pacemaker. The child apparently became a candidate for a pacemaker after a fainting episode at school in May 2010.
Protecting Students With Disabilities, Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education
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