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16-Year-Old Dies After Performing Fitness Test at School

$400,000 – Personal Injury; Wrongful Death

Facts

A delay in performing CPR on a 16-year-old student at Sweetwater High School, who collapsed during a state-mandated physical performance test, results in his death.

On April 23rd, 16-year-old Arturo was performing a state mandated physical performance test at Sweetwater High School. He was involved in the six-minute jog/walk when he complained of leg cramps and exhaustion to friends and sat down on the grass infield of the football field and running track. According to an eyewitness, when the test was over and the students were heading in, Arturo was still sitting up on the football field.

Defendant’s employee, a substitute P.E. teacher, either saw Arturo and noted nothing unusual about him or did not see him and proceeded in to open the lockers without him. Arturo was subsequently discovered approximately 15 to 20 minutes later by a friend who shared a locker room, unconscious and not breathing.

After being advised that there was a student on the field who was unconscious and not breathing, the school nurse proceeded to wheel a wheelchair to the site and also stopped to make a phone call to see that the paramedics were called to the scene. The evidence indicated that the fire department arrived within minutes after notification.

The California Physical Performance Test which Arturo was performing had procedural policies (disputed by defendant) and suggestions set forth in a manual. According to this manual, which was referred to by the California Administrative Code, only ten students were to be performing this test at a time, only two tests were to be administered on any one day, and there was a specific warning to the teacher administering the test to watch for signs of poor reaction to exercise and specifically advised of the danger involved in attributing poor reaction to poor pupil attitude until physical causes have been ruled out.

Allegations/Contentions

Arturo’s family contended there were 25 to 60 students performing the test, that there were at least three different tests being performed during that period, supervised by three P.E. teachers, and that the supervision was inadequate. Plaintiffs further contended that the school nurse, with knowledge that she was the only person on campus who was CPR trained, failed to react promptly to an emergency situation. Plaintiffs further contended that had Arturo received CPR within six minutes of entering ventricular fibrillation, he would have survived.

Defendant contended that the supervision was adequate and the school was not required to comply with the suggestions set forth in the California Physical Performance Test manual. Defendant further contended that there was no causation.

Injuries/Damages

Plaintiffs’ experts testified that Arturo Espino had no underlying cardiac disease and that he simply suffered from a dysrhythmia. Both further testified that a person such as Arturo was extremely easy to resuscitate once that person receives CPR. One expert testified that Arturo had an 80% to 90% chance of survival had he received CPR within six minutes of his entering ventricular fibrillation.

Funeral and burial expenses were $1750. Plaintiffs alleged that Arturo had contributed approximately $900 per year to the family during the last three years of his life, and intended to continue to contribute to the family income as he went on through school.

Special Notes

Prior to trial, plaintiff served an offer to compromise for $175,000 per CCP §998; defendant offered to compromise for $20,000 per CCP §998. Plaintiffs’ attorney asked the jury to award approximately $295,000. Defendant’s attorney asked the jury for a defense verdict. The jury was out two hours after an eight-day trial. Defendant’s motions for new trial and judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) were denied.

Some students have an underlying arrhythmia that goes undetected. Vaage Law supports the Eric Paredes Save a Life Foundation, whose goal is to provide free electrodiagnostic testing to all youth ages 12 to 25. So far, they have screened over 34,000 teens and identified over 500 cardiac abnormalities and over 230 at-risk teens.


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