Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Cruel Death In A Public School

Teachers at a public school in suburban Chicago have defined negligence for a future generation of lawyers.

Deanna Mendieta, 36, claims in the suit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, that her daughter became ill about 10:30 a.m. on tn April 4, but despite a deterioration in her condition for the next 40 minutes, little was done to help her, according to a release from the Power Rogers & Smith law firm, which is representing the plaintiff.

Katina, a first-grader, told her gym teacher she was sick to her stomach and not feeling well, the suit claims, but the girl was told to continue with class activities. Shortly afterward, she told the teacher she was nauseated, had chest and stomach pain, and had urinated on herself, the suit alleges, but the gym teacher told her only to return to her first-grade classroom, which she did without supervision or escort.

In the classroom, the teacher noted Katina's sickly appearance and sent her to the principal's office, again alone and without escort, the suit alleges. Minutes later, the girl was found by a school official in the hallway, slumped over a roll of construction paper, the suit claims. She again reported nausea, chest pain and discomfort, but was only taken to the principal's office, given a change of pants and placed in a bathroom by herself, the suit claims.

The girl was later found in the bathroom, "collapsed on the floor in an altered state of consciousness," according to the release. At the time, school officials were on the phone with Katina's grandmother, telling her the girl had wet her pants, the suit claims. No professional health assistance was ever offered, the suit claims.

Paramedics were subsequently called, and found the girl struggling to breathe, the suit alleges. Resuscitation efforts were attempted and Katina was taken to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, where she was pronounced dead, the suit claims.

But here's two questions, the issues that the emotions of the case would probably overwhelm at trial: how does a 7-year-old die of a heart attack, and should the teachers be held responsible for not recognizing that rather bizarre possibility?

A portable cardio-defibrillator was within feet of where the girl died, but no one at the school was trained to use it; there is frankly no evidence anyone thought to try to use it. This could be evidence they anticipated such a problem, but is more likely evidence that the district had money left over in their budget and needed to spend it on something or risk facing a budget cut in the future.

I wager the school will settle.

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