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Family Sues After Student with Special Needs Drowns in Chicago High School Pool

| Apr 14, 2017 | Wrongful Death |

In any school setting, school officials are responsible for the school’s students…all of those students, regardless of need. In any school, there are some students whose special needs may mean that extra steps are necessary to do a proper job of safeguarding those students’ physical well-being. According to a Chicago family’s lawsuit, a school’s failure to care properly for a 14-year-old boy with autism before allowing him in the school pool ended with the boy dead.

According to reports by multiple news sources, including the Chicago Tribune, the tragic drowning took place this past January at a Chicago public high school on the city’s southwest side. A group of students with special needs was using the school’s pool when it was discovered that one of the students was at the bottom of the pool. The boy was retrieved from the water, and attempts were made to try to revive him; however, he was already dead.

After the drowning took place, the family brought a legal action against the Chicago Public Schools. The wrongful death claim accused the school of failing to take the necessary safety precautions before allowing him to use the pool, given his cognitive disabilities. In this school, the water in the pool ranged from four to six feet deep. The family asserted that the boy’s autism made him less able to appreciate the dangers of deep water in a swimming pool and less capable of communicating to others if he got into a problematic situation. These were all things that the school employees either knew or should have known, according to the complaint.

This lawsuit pointed out several things the school allegedly could have done that might have prevented the boy’s terrible death. The school could have provided the boy with one-on-one training, a flotation device, or a “buddy” who would have provided constant supervision. Additionally, the family asserted that the school could have provided closer lifeguard supervision. According to the complaint, the person serving as the lifeguard was in an adjacent office using a computer when the drowning occurred.

In an action against school employees, the hurdles are higher for plaintiffs than they are in ordinary personal injury negligence cases. If the school employees responsible for the student’s injury were merely guilty of ordinary negligence, the law generally says there is no liability in that situation. In order to succeed and obtain damages in Illinois, the law says that you have to prove that the school employees acted willfully in a manner that was in “utter indifference to or conscious disregard of” student safety.

In this drowning case, the family will need to prove that, by allowing a boy with cognitive disabilities to use a pool that was as deep as six feet, without the benefit of a swimming buddy, one-on-one training, a flotation device, or close supervision by the lifeguard, the school’s actions displayed an utter indifference to or conscious disregard of the boy’s safety. In the past, courts have found the presence of utter indifference or conscious disregard in cases in which an English teacher failed to follow school policy in dealing with an asthmatic student’s respiratory emergency and in which a PE teacher conducted a floor hockey game without requiring that her students use protective eyewear (even though the PE department had goggles on hand).

If you have a loved one who has been harmed at school as a result of school employees’ actions or inaction, the diligent Chicago wrongful death attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca have the knowledge and experience to help. We have been providing skilled and determined representation to injured people for many years. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 312-724-5846 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Chicago Area High School Student Allowed to Pursue Recovery for Eye Injury in Floor Hockey Game, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, March 29, 2017

Illinois Appeals Court Upholds $2.5M Award Against School For Its Missteps in Student’s Asthma-Related Death, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Dec. 21, 2016