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Murrieta Valley School District Sued by Parents of Teen Swimming Pool Accident Victim – Aftermath

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Following School Drowning

Swimming Pool Drowning Tips

In 2016, the parents of a 13-year-old boy, Alex Pierce, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Murrieta Valley Unified School District.

Learn the outcome and discover the dangers

This was after their son drowned in the Murrieta High School pool due to the staff’s negligence.

At Ehline Law, our personal injury attorneys understand the physical, mental, and financial impact an accident can have on an injured victim. It’s not fair for you to pay for someone else’s negligence. If you or someone you know has suffered injuries, speak to our attorneys today to determine your legal options.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Following School Drowning

On June 3rd, 2016, Alex Pierce, a 13-year-old boy, along with his Dorothy McElhinney Middle School classmates, went to the year-end Vista Murrieta High School swimming pool party.

The Murrieta Valley Unified School District staff took responsibility for organizing the pool party and taking care of the children. The school had also hired a couple of student lifeguards who were “on-duty” during the pool party.

Surveillance footage showed Alex Pierce slipping into the swimming pool and staying at the bottom of the pool for at least two minutes. During this time, there was no lifeguard to rescue the 13-year-old boy from drowning, and Alex’s seventh-grade classmates spotted Alex and tried to retrieve him. Shockingly still, no faculty member or lifeguard made any effort to save the young boy.

The students retrieved Alex by placing him on a backboard, where he floated for seven minutes until the paramedics arrived. During that time, no school personnel, faculty, or lifeguards performed CPR on the young boy to resuscitate him, resulting in losing precious minutes.

The Murrieta Fire Department paramedics arrived after a while. They transported Alex to a nearby hospital, but the medical professionals had to airlift the young boy to another hospital due to the severe injuries. Upon reaching the second hospital, the doctors attempted life-saving treatment by placing Alex on life support, where he remained in a coma for more than a month.

Unfortunately, Alex did not survive his injuries. On July 7th, 2016, the doctors at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego performed their final tests before declaring the young boy brain dead. The tragic incident sparked the need for changes in the school district.

Alex’s parents stated that their young son had a chance to survive, but many failed him multiple times. They vouched to take legal action against the Murrieta Valley Unified School District for justice and to prevent this from happening to any other family in the future. They believed that their legal action would prompt school districts across California to re-examine and update their safety protocols.

Police and School Officials Report About the Incident

The police and school officials reported that Alex Pierce was retrieved from the swimming pool after drowning. The incident occurred on June 3rd, 2016, during a year-end party that consisted of 100 band and choir members. The school officials stated that Alex remained underwater for about 95 seconds before another student retrieved him.

The police captain at the time, Dennis Vrooman, reported that nothing inappropriate happened when they arrived at the scene. The camera footage showed that Alex was floating unintentionally towards the deep side of the pool, where he could no longer stand and therefore drowned.

Was Alex’s Death a Case of Wrongful Death?

Several indications point toward the death of the 13-year-old boy as a wrongful death case, including:

  • The school lacked sufficient lifeguards to supervise the 100 band and choir members at the swimming pool party.
  • The school’s faculty, staff, representatives, and even lifeguards lacked the experience to manage the pool party and did not have sufficient training to aid the young swimmers during emergencies.
  • The 13-year-old boy was not retrieved from the swimming pool by the faculty, staff, or lifeguards but by his fellow concerned classmates.
  • No school personnel or lifeguards entered the water to save Alex.
  • The young boy was without oxygen for 9 minutes.
  • The school personnel, faculty, and lifeguards did not perform CPR on Alex.
  • Medical professionals and paramedics believed that if Alex received oxygen immediately, he would have a higher chance of survival.

When the paramedics arrived at the drowning accident scene, Alex was in a critical state. They transported him to a nearby hospital, which did not have the necessary equipment to treat Alex. He was then airlifted to a larger hospital, where the doctors placed him on life support. Alex was in a coma until July 7th, 2016, when the doctors declared him brain dead.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In the case of a successful wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove the following key elements:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care to the victim.
  • The defendant breached that duty of care due to their negligence.
  • The defendant’s negligence caused the death of a person.
  • The death of the person resulted in damage to the surviving family members.

To prove the four key elements of a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff’s attorney must provide concrete evidence of negligence that resulted in damages to the surviving family members. In some situations, evidence may require the testimony of expert witnesses.

In the case of Alex, the incident ticked all the key elements of the wrongful death lawsuit. The school had a duty to supervise the students and keep them safe. They failed to prevent Alex from drowning, and the boy was without oxygen for 9 minutes, suggesting an incompetent staff that lacked the necessary training. Alex was in a coma for more than a month at a major hospital and was on life support before doctors declared him dead.

The Grieving Family and Murrieta Schools Settle the Life Support Lawsuit

In September 2016, roughly three months after the tragic incident, the grieving family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Murrieta Valley Unified School District. Two years later, in 2018, the family and Murrieta schools settled the wrongful death lawsuit for $11 million.

The settlement between the two parties occurred on May 16th, 2018, a month before the case was heading toward trial. The dismissal of the case happened on July 2nd, 2018. Media channels contacted the attorneys after the settlement for information on the settled amount and any comments. Unfortunately, neither side came forward to provide comments or additional information.

The Pierce family argued that Keith Good, a certified lifeguard, and the school’s dive coach, was there during the drowning. Good’s attorney stated that he was not on duty. However, according to court documents, the Pierce family’s attorneys did not agree with the statement. They said that while Good was on duty, he had failed to train the nine amateur lifeguards properly, and he did not do anything after the boy floated for seven minutes in the pool on a backboard.

To dismiss the lawsuit, Good’s attorney argued that he did not have a legal obligation to aid Pierce. The Riverside county judge refused to toss out the lawsuit, stating that Good did not prove that he did not have a duty of care. This created grounds for trial, and since the defendant’s attorney knew about it, the parties decided to settle it outside of court with the Pierce family.

Vista Murrieta High School District Superintendent Examines Safety Policies

After settling the case, the School District Superintendent, Patrick Kelly, issued a statement and wrote a letter to the Pierce family, apologizing on behalf of the school district, stating that no amount of money could make up for the loss of their son.

Although Kelly apologized on behalf of the school, the school district did not admit liability or fault. Kelly stated that they are examining the school safety plan, policies, procedures, and protocols to prevent any such incidents in the future.

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