The family of Avonte Oquendo, the autistic boy who suddenly ran out of school and turned up dead months later in the East River, has settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the City of New York for $2.7 million.
Three months after the boy disappeared from his Queens, N.Y. school, the body of the boy was discovered on January 15, 2014.
The lawsuit alleged that school officials and the New York Police Departments school safety division were negligent for not properly supervising Avonte, and failing to monitor the doors of the school. This negligence allowed the boy to suddenly run out of the school without being noticed, despite his history of being non-verbal and a flight risk. Avonte’s mother had sent a note to the school regarding required fight prevention supervision but the information in the note was never passed along to the paraprofessionals that were escorting his class from the lunchroom to recess on the day he disappeared.
In a statement given to the New York Daily News, a spokesperson from the city’s Law Department, Nicholas Paolucci said, “The loss of a child is a tragedy that no family should endure, and hopefully, the resolution of this legal matter will bring some measure of solace to Avonte’s family.”
“The Department of Education has taken a number of steps and is dedicated to taking every measure possible to prevent something like this from occurring again.” Paolucci added.
How Common Are School Related Injuries?
Although the Avonte Oquendo case is far more tragic than most, lawsuits against schools are far more common than most would think. The negligence of teachers, bus drivers, nurses and athletic personnel contributes to a large portion of the injuries to students. Violent acts were the cause of nearly 750,000 non-fatal injuries to students between the ages of 12-18 years old in 2012 as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A national survey, the following year, showed that 8% of all students reported being in a fight and 20% reported being bullied. The most common injuries to students from physical violence included contusions, broken bones, head trauma and, shockingly, gunshot wounds. 5% of all students admitted to carrying some form of weapon to school within a 30-day period.
School violence and bullying can lead to anxiety, depression and disabling phobias according to the CDC. These issues can interfere with learning, or make a child try to escape by truancy or withdrawing emotionally. It is critical for parents to communicate with children daily to aid in identifying any signs of physical or emotional abuse.
Athletic injuries, from gym class or sports, are also common within the school systems. In a 2012 reports Safe Kids Worldwide reported that 1.35 million children suffered sports related injuries in 2012 that required a trip to the emergency room. Injuries from sports are most likely to be caused by improper supervision of defective safety equipment. There has been a surge in public awareness of the risk and danger of concussions recently in school sports. However soft tissue injuries, fractures, spinal injuries and sprains are also suffered due to school sports by many youths.
Another common cause for injuries to students stems from improper supervision on playgrounds, cafeterias, classrooms and common areas such as hallways as was the case of Avonte Oquendo.
Other causes of injuries to students are school bus accidents, medical malpractice by nurses, and unsafe property such as cracked sidewalks and improperly maintained recreation areas.
If Your Child is Hurt at School
An injured child is not only suffering physically, he or she is also suffering emotionally, as are you as a parent. What parent does not suffer with their child? In addition to seeking proper medical care, the child needs your comfort. Once the trauma has waned and emotions have settled, it is time to look at the circumstance that led to your child being injured. Determining if there was negligence should be left to an experienced attorney with expertise in handling injuries involving schools. Every situation is unique. Certain elements must be present for a school injury, or wrongful death suit, to be successful. These four questions need to be answered:
1. Was there a duty of care? All school personnel have a duty of care to protect students from physical and psychological harm while on school grounds, traveling on buses, on supervised field trips, engaging in sports and other school sanctioned extra-curricular activities.
2. Was the duty of care breached? Did the teacher, school bus driver, coach, nurse, custodian or any other staff member act inappropriately or fail to act appropriately during the course of duty?
3. Did recklessness, or other misconduct, cause or contribute to the harm to the student.
4. Did the student suffer an injury either physically or psychologically? Can the harm be proven and confirmed by medical professionals?
Proceeding with a lawsuit against a school is different than suing a private entity. Acting quickly is paramount as the deadlines for filing are more stringent. The rules for filing against a public school are also different than those that apply to a private or charter school.
The Qualified School Injury Attorney
If you have a child that was injured at school, while participating in a school activity, or traveling by school bus, you need to contact a St. Petersburg wrongful death attorney that is experienced in school related injury litigation. You may be able to collect significant compensation for your child’s medical bills, pain and suffering, emotional stress and more. If you were unfortunate enough to have lost a child due to the negligence of school personnel, you may be able to file a wrongful death suit. Do not attempt to determine if negligence existed or not. Leave that to your attorney. Even in cases of psychological damage or having to change schools due to bullying by another student may have been preventable with proper supervision.
Dolman Law Group has represented the families of many students who suffered harm as the result of negligence by school personnel. If you child was hurt, call Dolman Law at (727) 222-6922 today for a free, confidential, consultation by a qualified attorney.Dolman Law Group
1663 1St Ave S.St. Petersburg, FL 33712