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ARTICLE ID 187587

$________ GROSS – SCHOOL LIABILITY – HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT IS PERMITTED TO PARTICIPATE IN RIGOROUS SPORTING ACTIVITY WITHOUT PHYSICAL CLEARANCE – WRONGFUL DEATH OF 17-YEAR-OLD.

Hillsborough County, FL

This case involved the death of a 17-year-old high school junior who died of a cardiac arrest during varsity preseason baseball team conditioning at Alonso High School in Tampa, Florida. The trial defendants included Hillsborough School Board, the pediatrician who had cleared the young decedent for participation in baseball and the pediatrician’s practice group. The plaintiffs alleged that the boy should not have been cleared to engage in athletic activity, including baseball practice or “preseason workouts”, in light of his congenital heart defect. The plaintiffs also contended that the defendant School Board was negligent in failing to require a doctor’s examination before the youngster was permitted to engage in rigorous sporting activity in accordance with Florida High School Athletic Association guidelines. The defendants countered that the workouts were not “practice” and therefore no physical examination was yet required.

The defendants further contended that the plaintiff parents knew of their son’s medical condition and were comparatively negligent for allowing his continued participation in sports. The defendant pediatrician asserted that he called the plaintiff parents and sent them a certified letter to alert them that a cardiologist had warned against their son’s continued participation in sports and to revoke the boy’s clearance for participation in the sport. The plaintiff parents were listed as Fabre defendants on the verdict form. The parents denied receiving any letters or phone calls alerting them to a revocation of their son’s baseball clearance.

The death occurred on January 19, ________, while the decedent was participating in a high school baseball team preseason workout involving a mile run. The decedent collapsed on the field and the coach began CPR. However, the youngster could not be resuscitated and was pronounced dead at the hospital a short time later. The cause of death was listed as congenital aortic valve disease. The decedent had been diagnosed with aortic stenosis since birth. The school had an automated external defibrillator (AED), but the device was inside the building and not readily accessible.

The allegations against the defendant pediatrician and his practice group involved the pediatrician’s clearing the young decedent to participate in the sport of baseball and a later alleged failure to notify the decedent or his parents of the revocation of the boy’s sport’s clearance. The youngster had played baseball since Little League and, after transferring to Alonzo High School from Tampa Catholic where he played junior varsity baseball, he was eager to join his new school’s varsity baseball team as a junior, according to testimony offered.

Evidence showed that the decedent’s cardiologist called the defendant pediatrician in response to an inquiry from the pediatrician and had warned him that the boy should not participate in active sports until follow-up from his freshman year visit had taken place. The plaintiff parents testified that they never received the warning from the cardiologist or the defendant pediatrician.

The defendant pediatrician contended that he attempted to revoke his sports approval after he learned that the decedent had not had advanced cardiology testing and his prior cardiology clearance had occurred during his freshman year. The pediatrician asserted that he had given approval for the boy’s baseball clearance based on false information given by the plaintiff mother regarding the decedent’s past testing and cardiology follow-up. Once the pediatrician learned the actual date of the decedent’s last cardiology testing and follow-up and after a call to the decedent’s cardiologist the day after he issued the clearance; the pediatrician argued that he called the plaintiff parents and left messages. He testified that he later sent them a letter via certified and regular mail to alert them that a cardiologist had warned against their son’s continued participation in any sport until he was seen in follow-up.

Evidence showed that the certified letter sent by the defendant pediatrician to the plaintiff parents was returned unopened to the defendant pediatric medical group after two delivery attempts. The defendant pediatrician testified that he was never notified of the letter’s return and it was misfiled in a drawer at the reception desk, against the medical group’s procedure. The certified letter remained in the drawer until it was discovered after the decedent death some four and a-half months later.The jury found the defendant school board 5% negligent, the defendant pediatrician 20% negligent and his practice group 15% negligent and the plaintiff parents each 30% comparatively negligent. The plaintiffs were awarded $________ in damages reduced to a net award of approximately $________. The defendant pediatrician and his practice group have filed an appeal.

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