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Special Needs Student Dies from Fall After Teachers Tied Him to Desk Chair

Legally, schools act in loco parentis when students are in their care. Ethically, mothers and fathers entrust schools with their most precious, valuable possessions: their children. However, the negligence of a group of teachers at a Hacienda-La Puente Unified School District elementary school resulted in a family sending their special needs son off one morning and never seeing him alive again.

Eight-year-old Moises Murillo had Down syndrome and expressed some of the most severe symptoms. He was both cognitively and physically impaired, requiring a specialized wheelchair with a five-point harness. Moises attended summer school to maintain his academic progress, but teachers failed to read his Individualized Education Program (IEP). On the second day of the summer school program, Moises’s instructors removed him from his wheelchair and strapped him with a gait belt to a chair in front of a desk. Then, they walked away.

Within 20 minutes, Moises had fallen on the floor, still strapped to the chair. Tragically, in the fall, Moises hit the ground so hard that he severed his cervical spinal cord. He died in the hospital days later.

Even with a 98-page police report, the Murillo family was unclear about what happened to their little boy. The report shed no light other than that Moises had fallen and passed away. In addition, the school district refused to provide the family with any additional details. Consequently, the Murillo family contacted Luis Carrillo and Michael Carrillo of the Carrillo Law Firm, a father-son team with a reputation for standing toe-to-toe against negligent school districts. The Carrillos bolstered their team with Steven R. Vartazarian of The Vartazarian Law Firm to ensure the case was ready for trial if need be.

During deposition after deposition, school staff denied and deflected responsibility. Nevertheless, Luis, Michael, and Steve persisted. They pressed the teachers and school administrators about why they removed Moises from his wheelchair. They maintained it was necessary for Moises’s therapy and to acclimate to a traditional learning environment. In fact, the trio uncovered that the reason for removing Moises was that the teachers never read his IEP. The school had been hiding that instead of adjusting the classroom environment to benefit Moises’s learning, they adjusted Moises to make their jobs easier.

As they gathered more information, Luis, Michael, and Steve realized that Moises had pushed himself up and back while in the chair. Because he was tied down, Moises could not maneuver as he fell to soften the impact. In other words, had the teachers not strapped Moises to a chair and left him unsupervised, Moises would be alive today; and had Moises not been removed from his wheelchair per his IEP, he wouldn’t have fallen at all. The attorneys retained an engineering expert to verify the force necessary for Moises to propel himself backward. Indeed, Moises possessed the requisite strength.

Luis, Michael, and Steve wanted to ensure that a potential jury fully understood their argument and the scenario they deduced. Therefore, they called on DK Global to synthesize their evidence and expert testimony into a 3D animation that reconstructed the incident.

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 tip over and fall headfirst onto the concrete. The animation then demonstrated how the impact caused a dens fracture in his C2 vertebra, severing his spinal cord. Last, a damages overview of how the fracture and spinal cord injury 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. As discussions continued, the Defense agreed to settle 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.

"The heartbreak and the senselessness, left up to the imagination, can be quantified. But left up to a visual where you can look at it, it makes you feel different, and that's the magic of the animation."
Steve Vartazarian - The Vartazarian Law Firm
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