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13-Year-Old’s Asthma Attack Turns Fatal Due to School’s Lack of Action Plan

In California, asthma sends more children to the emergency room than any other disease. In fact, asthma-induced illness is the top reason for student absenteeism in the state. Still, many school employees lack the proper training to recognize and handle these medical emergencies.

On Halloween day in 2019, a middle school teacher at Mesa View Middle School, part of the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District, failed to intervene when 13-year-old Adeline Carrasco suffered breathing difficulties. The teacher walked the class from the science lab to the soccer field for an activity when Adeline experienced a respiratory episode. Unfortunately, Adeline forgot her inhaler in the classroom. Her teacher instructed her to walk back uphill to the class to retrieve it. Ultimately, Adeline walked over 4,000 feet — 13 football fields — before she collapsed on the way to the health office, suffering a fatal asthma attack.

Adeline had a known history of asthma attacks. Her school file even warned staff of her medical condition. However, her teacher never reviewed it. Instead of calling a golf cart to help Adeline or having an adult accompany her, the teacher sent her walking with another classmate. Adeline walked from the soccer field on one end of the campus to the science lab on the other end. In the science lab, Adeline’s rescue inhaler failed to ease her symptoms. When Adeline returned to the field and informed her teacher that her inhaler was not helping, the teacher had Adeline trek back up a steep slope to the health office with no adult supervision. Along the way, Adeline collapsed. She was rushed to the hospital, but tragically, Adeline died nine days later.

Devastated, Adeline’s mother looked to hold the school district accountable. Her mission was to ensure Adeline’s death was not in vain and that no other family would experience the same tragedy. In her search for an attorney, she was referred to Brian Claypool and Nathalie Vallejos of Claypool Law Firm, who joined forces with Robert Glassman and Erika Contreras of Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP. As the team filed their claim and dug into the case, they uncovered multiple layers of failures that would have prevented Adeline’s death. Shockingly, they learned staff had no action plan for asthma-related emergencies.

Robert and Erika retained a pediatric pulmonologist from Harvard Medical School to testify about Adeline’s cause of death. The expert said the extra trudge uphill and long distance severely aggravated her asthma, resulting in fatal cardiac arrest. Thus, the two knew it was critical to show how far Adeline needed to walk while struggling to breathe. They worked with DK Global to illustrate their evidence.

The presentation began with a satellite view of the school, detailing the distance between the soccer field and the classroom. An on-site inspection video showed that Adeline walked roughly 1,106 feet from the science lab to the field. Once at the field, Adeline noticed her breathing becoming labored. By the time she had walked to the science lab and back to the field again, Adeline had traversed over 3,300 feet, exacerbating her breathing difficulties. Finally, despite being unable to catch her breath, she was told to walk to the health office with no golf cart or an adult to assist her — a blatant violation of school safety protocols. Tragically, she collapsed halfway to the office. A security guard driving a golf cart found her unconscious.

Robert and Erika asserted they would not go to mediation unless the Defense offered full and fair compensation. They shared the animation at the meeting and listed their additional non-monetary demands: a memorial for Adeline, adequate training for teachers to properly handle medical emergencies, and an update in the school’s policies to better protect asthmatic students. The school district agreed to all of Robert and Erika’s demands and settled the matter for $15.75 million.

Partner Robert Glassman is recognized among the “Best Lawyers in America” and has been continuously named a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers since 2013. Notably, Robert was selected as a finalist for the Consumer Attorney of the Year award for his work on Pierce v. Murrieta Valley Unified School District, a prestigious honor for advancing the safety of students statewide.

Attorney Erika Contreras has built a reputation as a Super Lawyers' Rising Star and was listed among Southern California Super Lawyers in 2022. In addition, she has been named one of Los Angeles Magazine’s Top Women Attorneys in Southern California. Erika is recognized among the Best Lawyers in America by Best Lawyers and has obtained multiple million-dollar awards for her clients.

Brian Claypool is a nationally regarded trial attorney, trusted media personality, and an ally to those who have endured sexual abuse and faced civil injustice. He built a career as a renowned defense attorney for large companies and government entities. However, feeling unfulfilled, he refocused his practice in 2006 to solely safeguarding the rights and wellbeing of the voiceless. Brian is a frequent guest on local and national television and radio news shows.

Nathalie Vallejos has helped victims of sexual abuse, bullying, and police misconduct since receiving her Juris Doctorate from Trinity Law School. Guided by strong faith and values, she is fluent in both English and Spanish.

"They agreed to every single one of our demands. And I think in large part, it was due to how impactful that video was."
Robert Glassman - Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP
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