$2.5 Million Jury Verdict for the Death of a Teenager Who Died When School Delayed Response to an Asthma Attack

Jeffrey Stewart was an 18-year-old student at Oswego High School at 4250 Route 71 in Oswego, Ill.  He had a known history of asthma. On Feb. 13, 2008, Jeffrey was attending a class when he experienced difficulty breathing, wheezing and collapsed. A teacher sent students to get the school’s nurse but did not immediately call 911. When the nurse arrived at the classroom, she found Jeffrey was not breathing and had no pulse. The nurse told the teacher to call 911. Instead, the teacher reportedly called the nurse’s office and asked a staff member who answered to call 911. The call to 911 was eventually made, but only after a more than significant amount of time had elapsed.

Unfortunately, Jeffrey never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead.  He was survived by his parents and one sibling.

The coroner’s office ruled the cause of death was acute bronchial asthma.

The case was tried solely on a wrongful death/loss of society claim. The defendant school district denied that the conduct of the school personnel constituted utter indifference or conscious disregard for the student’s well-being, denied that Jeffrey died from an asthma attack and argued that his death was due to a heart condition. Those arguments fell on deaf ears as far as the jury was concerned.

Under Illinois law, 745 ILCS 25, the Tort Liability of Schools Act, no civil action may be commenced in any court against any school district or non-profit private school by any person for any injury to his person or property (including wrongful death) unless it is commenced within one year from the date that the injury was received or the cause of action accrued. That just deals with the statute of limitations. The Illinois Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act sets out that the acts or omissions by the school district must rise to be “reckless,” which means “any action that is intended to cause harm, or if not intentional shows an utter indifference or conscious disregard to the safety of others or their property” in order to be permitted by law to pursue such an action. 745 ILCS 10/1, et seq. In other words, the school district’s conduct must be reckless, not just negligent in order to be allowed to bring a lawsuit against it.

The jury was asked to return a verdict of $5 million. Incredibly, the only offer made by the school district in this egregious case of indifference was $85,000. The jury’s verdict was $2,500,000.  Congratulations for an excellent job in handling such a tragic case by attorney Bradley A. Skafish.

At trial, the Stewart family presented an expert in internal medicine while the defendant presented experts in pulmonology and emergency medicine.

Estate of Jeffrey Stewart v. Oswego Community Unit School District No. 308, No. 08 L 75 (Kendall County, Ill.).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling wrongful death cases, car accident cases, truck accident cases, bicycle accident cases, motorcycle accident cases, premises liability cases, toxic tort cases, pharmaceutical injury cases and work site injury cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by chemical exposure for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook, Lake, Will, DuPage, McHenry and Kendall counties and surrounding areas including, Deerfield, Wheeling, Glencoe, Northbrook, Northfield, Chicago (Wrigleyville, Austin, Lawndale), Buffalo Grove, Joliet, Elgin, Aurora, St. Charles, Geneva, Naperville, Waukegan and Mt. Prospect, Ill.

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