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$15.75M and Policy Overhaul for Preventable Asthma Attack Death

Every good teacher knows about their students: their names, their struggles, their strengths. This includes urgent health issues like allergies or chronic conditions. Simply put, educators are responsible for keeping students safe while they’re at school. At a middle school in the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District, had one eighth-grade teacher checked 13-year-old Adilene Carrasco’s file, she would have seen Adilene had a history of asthma. Moreover, as one of the most common conditions affecting younger generations, the teacher should have been trained on asthmatic children’s limitations. However, the teacher failed to learn about her student. During an asthma flare-up, she sent Adilene on a strenuous walk back and forth across the school campus. After her second trek up a hill to the nurse’s office, Adilene collapsed and succumbed to her respiratory event.

One thousand one hundred six feet away from the classroom, Adilene’s science teacher walked her students to a grassy field for class. At the field, Adilene told her teacher that she was having trouble breathing. In response, the teacher had Adilene and another student walk the 1,106 feet uphill back to the classroom to retrieve her prescription inhaler. Unfortunately, Adilene’s inhaler didn’t relieve her symptoms. An obedient student, Adilene then walked another 1,106 feet back to the field to inform her teacher. Adilene arrived at the field wheezing and visibly in respiratory distress. Despite her obviously worsening asthma attack, her teacher instructed her to walk to the nurse’s office, another 975 feet away, accompanied again by another student. After walking 4,078 feet, Adilene collapsed. A campus monitor found her and her fellow student on the hill, but Adilene lost consciousness and passed away nine days later.

Adilene’s mother sought justice in the wake of her daughter’s death. The initial legal team brought aboard Erika Contreras and Robert Glassman of Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP to help with the case. As they took depositions and investigated Adilene’s case, the layers of egregious failures that led to the girl’s preventable death became clear.

Erika and Robert saw the big picture of the case — a young girl now deceased from an asthma attack — and knew holding the school district accountable lay in illustrating the essential details that took the case from unfortunate to entirely unnecessary. First, they gathered all the information they possibly could and hired medical experts to communicate the severity of Adilene’s medical emergency. Then, they approached DK Global to create an animation demonstrating just how far Adilene had to walk while enduring respiratory stress. It was an appeal to a prospective jury’s human nature; any person could understand the anxiety and terror of struggling to breathe while being compelled to scale a hill not once but twice.

The video began with a view of the school campus. The route from the science lab to the class’s location on the field was shown with a yellow dashed line. Footage of the joint USD Inspection juxtaposed the animation for accuracy. An animated rendering of Adilene with her hand on her chest then appeared, followed by a red stick figure indicating her teacher’s orders to get her inhaler from the classroom. A counter in the corner of the frame tallied the number of feet Adilene walked, her location on campus indicated with a red dashed line. Meanwhile, her animated rendering began to visibly tire. Adilene collapsed after walking 4,078 feet, unable to reach the nurse’s office. An animated golf cart represented the campus monitor who found Adilene before she ultimately lost consciousness.

Erika and Robert knew that mediation would only be an option beyond a certain monetary amount, and the Defense met that number quickly with a $15,750,000 settlement offer. It was obvious that there was hardly a case to be made on the Defense’s behalf once Erika and Robert sent over the video and their other trial materials. However, money wasn’t what mattered to Adilene’s mother. The real victory of the mediation was the five non-monetary terms to the settlement that would ensure nothing like what happened to Adilene would ever happen to another child again.

Erika Contreras is an attorney at Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP, who focuses primarily on catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, and motor carrier liability cases. A member of the Latina Lawyers Bar Association Board of Directors, she has received several accolades since the beginning of her career, including the Latina Lawyers Bar Association “Trailblazer Award.” She was also the recipient of the Daily Journal’s California Lawyer’s Attorney of the Year Award (CLAY).

Robert Glassman is a partner at Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP, based in Los Angeles. Robert was named the 2023 Co-Chair of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers Los Angeles Young Lawyers Division and serves as a board member of the America Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). The Daily Journal named him a California Lawyer of the Year in 2023, largely for his work on the Sepulveda case. He has attained settlements as high as $23.5M for his clients.

Adilene

"When the defense saw that video, they knew that this is something that could never go in front of a jury."
Robert Glassman — Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP
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