Middle school student with known heart problem collapses; an AED available at the school is not used to resuscitate him.
- Case Name: Tillinghast v. Los Angeles Unified School District
- Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC669592
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, April 14, 2023
- Date Action was Filed: Friday, July 21, 2017
- Type of Case: Negligence, Wrongful Death
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Chester Horn
Plaintiffs: Mark Tillinghast
Defendants: Los Angeles Unified School DistrictDerek Moriouchi, school principal
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $15,000,000
- Net Verdict or Award: $15,000,000
Award as to each Defendant:
$15,000,000 against LAUSD. The jury found defendant Moriouchi not negligent.
- Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 7 days
- Jury Deliberation Time: 5 hours
- Jury Polls: 10-2 liability; 12-0 damages
Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Law Offices of Haytham Faraj by Haytham Faraj and Katherine Melik-Stepanyan, West Hollywood.
Law Offices of Gary S. Casselman by Gary Casselman, Venice.
Attorney for the Defendant:
Hurrell Cantrall LLP by Thomas Hurrell and Natalie Luongo, Los Angeles.
Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
Mark Eckstein, M.D., emergency medicine.
Kevin Shannon, M.D,. pediatric cardiology and electro-physiology.
Defendant's Medical Expert(s):
Michael Ritter, M.D., emergency medicine.
Alistair Phillips, M.D., pediatric cardiothoracic surgery.
Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
Robert Fraise, school district duty of care, policies and procedures.
Facts and Background
Facts and Background:
Background: Plaintiff's decedent, Max Tillinghast, a middle school student (grades 5-8) had a condition called Hypertrophic Cardio Myopathy (HCM). It is a condition that usually causes the left ventricle wall or septum or both to become thickened. Max’s septum was 5.5 cm thick. A normal septum is one centimeter thick. The thickness of the heart walls reduces blood output, which can cause sudden cardiac arrest when additional output is necessary during exertion. As the electrical signals tell the heart to pump faster, the heart can’t keep up due to the reduced capacity and goes into a condition called ventricular fibrillation. When the heart is in VF the heart gets electrical signals but it is not focal and cannot pump. The heart moves like a bowl of Jell-o. People in VF quickly collapse because the brain is not receiving oxygen. Breathing is agonal and pulse is normally non-existent or very faint. The only way to come out of VF is by use of a defibrillator. The window of survival is less than 10 minutes. The window of survival without any permanent brain injury for a child is about 5-7 minutes. Good, effective CPR can extend the window of survival.
On April 25, 2016, at LAUSD’s Palms Middle School, Maxwell was in a P.E. class slowly jogging at the school athletic field when his heart went into ventricular fibrillation. He collapsed. P.E. teachers went to the boy and 911 was called. By the time paramedics arrived 12 minutes after his witnessed collapse, Max had suffered from lack of oxygen and he was effectively brain dead. An Automated External Defibrillator (AED) had been purchased and was in the school’s main office.
By acquiring an AED, there were very specific statutory requirements, and LAUSD policies, that Palms Middle School was required to fulfill.
Deft. Derek Moriouchi was the school principal of Palms Middle School.
The relevant statute required the school principal to inform the teachers annually of the location of the AED, maintain the AED and report to the District annually that the requirements were fulfilled. LAUSD published a specific bulletin to abide by the statute with step-by-step instructions for principals and nurses on AED training, maintenance, CPR/AED certification and reporting.
LAUSD failed to provide the information to the principal at Palms Middle School and failed to inquire why the school was not sending annual reports as the bulletin mandated. The negligence in the case was clear; though not admitted by defense.
As to Defendant principal, Plaintiff argued that defendant Moriouchi was not negligent, but that LAUSD is solely negligent based on the evidence.
Defense took the position that Max's heart was so large and his condition so severe that an AED would not have been effective as testified to by the pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, who worked on the child when arrived at Cedars. The defense's position was that even if LAUSD were negligent, it was not the cause of death and did not contribute to the death.
Defense counsel argued that defendant school principal Moriouchi made a mistake in not distributing the applicable LAUSD bulletin.
Injuries and Other Damages
Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Wrongful death of plaintiff's 13-years old male child.