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$18M Settlement Against CA School District for Special-Needs Student’s Death

Hacienda La Puente Unified School District touted its commitment to providing special needs students with an appropriate public education. Because of this claimed commitment, the family of eight-year-old Moises Murillo entrusted the school district with his cognitive and physical development. Moises had Down syndrome and significant special needs, and was supported by a wheelchair with a five-point harness. Moises attended summer school to maintain his academic progress. However, his new teachers neglected to review his IEP (individualized education program), which outlined specialized accommodations, educational goals, medical needs, and specific seating instructions.

On his second day of summer school, staff tried to put Moises and his personalized wheelchair in front of a small school desk to create a workspace, but he would not fit. Instead of adapting Moises’s learning environment to his needs, staff removed him from his wheelchair for their own convenience. Using a gait belt, they tied him to a chair in front of the desk to keep him still. Then, the three teachers left him unattended. Tragically, Moises fell backward and hit his head on the concrete, suffering a fatal spinal injury.

With no witnesses or video to show what happened, the school district’s staff denied responsibility for Moises’s death for years. They alleged he fell over or suffered a seizure. Moises’s family contacted Luis Carrillo and Michael Carrillo of the Carrillo Law Firm after hearing of their success in holding California school districts accountable for wrongdoings. They brought on Steven R. Vartazarian of The Vartazarian Law Firm to help work up the case.

As the three attorneys deposed the school district’s staff, they inquired why the school staff took Moises out of his wheelchair. The Defendants asserted it was needed for therapy and to acclimate him to a traditional learning environment. However, after many depositions, the attorneys realized the reason for removing Moises from his wheelchair was that teachers never read his IEP.

After uncovering the teachers’ motive to hide their negligence, the three attorneys retained engineering experts to determine the force needed for Moises to propel himself backward. They concluded that Moises placed his hands on the desk and pushed himself off, causing him to tip over. The attorneys worked with DK Global to visualize their findings.

The animation began with a photo of Moises in his special-needs wheelchair and the seat he was tied to. Then, the teachers were shown leaving Moises bound to the chair unattended. Next, Moises pushed off the desk to try and stand up, causing him to fall headfirst onto the concrete and sever his spinal cord. Finally, a damages overview illustrated Moises’s dens fracture that caused organ failure.

Steve, Michael, and Luis shared the animation of Moises’s mechanism of fatality during depositions of the Defense’s experts. Both the opposition and their experts’ jaws dropped. Shortly after, Steve, Michael, and Luis continued discussions with the Defense until they agreed to settle the matter for $18,000,000.

Steven R. Vartazarian specializes in personal injury and wrongful death matters and is listed as one of the Top 100 Trial Lawyers in America. In 2019, Steve was awarded CAALA’s “Trial Lawyer of the Year” award for his success in securing numerous multi-million-dollar verdicts. Notably, in 2019, Steve obtained a $113,400,000 jury verdict, which is believed to be the highest pain and suffering outcome for a single plaintiff in California history.

Since 2008, Michael Carrillo of the Carrillo Law Firm has handled numerous high-profile cases involving sexual abuse, police misconduct, and personal injury. In 2018, Michael was inducted into the National Trial Lawyers: “Top 40 Under 40” organization, a group composed of America’s top young trial attorneys. In 2017, Michael and Luis secured a settlement of $139,000,000 – the country’s highest recorded resolution against a school district.

For over 41 years, Luis Carrillo of the Carrillo Law Firm has handled many high-profile cases, earning recognition amongst the “Top 30 Plaintiff’s Attorneys” by the Daily Journal in 2016. Notably, Luis has obtained numerous multi-million-dollar outcomes for the victims of sexual abuse, police excessive force, and catastrophic injury.


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"Without that animation, there is no way this case would have settled for $18,000,000, period."
Steven R. Vartazarian, Esq. – The Vartazarian Law Firm




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Although the facts and outcomes presented in this email are intended to be true and accurate, they represent the reporting of a unique matter and do not imply or guarantee any type of result or outcome for matters in which DK Global is involved.
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