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Result: $2.7 Million Settlement for the Family of a Boy With Autism Who Died After School's Security Gaps Allowed Him to Wander Off

The Perecman Firm secured a $2,700,000 settlement for the family of 14-year-old nonverbal, autistic boy who was able to wander off school property because of gaps in its security. His body was found on a shoreline approximately 11 miles north of the school.

The Perecman Firm represented a client who died after wandering school property, and whose deceased body was discovered months later. The plaintiffs' aquatics expert submitted a report in which he opined that his death was likely a drowning.

On Oct. 4, 2013, plaintiff's decedent, a 14-year-old nonverbal, autistic boy, attended school. During the course of the day, the plaintiff's decedent and other special-needs students were escorted through the school's hallways, from a cafeteria. The plaintiff's decedent split from the group – apparently unnoticed – passed a security guard and left the school's grounds. He did not return to the school or his home, and an extensive manhunt failed to locate him. On Jan. 17, 2014, his deceased body was discovered on a shoreline, some 11 miles north of the school.

The plaintiff's decedent mother, acting individually and as his parent and natural guardian, sued the school's owner, the school's operator, and the school's security providers. She also sued the school's principal, the school's assistant principal, one of the school's safety agents, one of the school's supervisors, her son’s teacher, two other teachers, one of the school's paraprofessionals, and the principal of a neighboring school. The lawsuit alleged that the teachers, principals, safety agent, supervisor and paraprofessional were negligent in their supervision of the plaintiff's decedent, that the school’s owner and operator were vicariously liable for the actions of the teachers, principals, supervisor and paraprofessional, and that the school’s security providers were vicariously liable for the actions of the safety agent.

Plaintiffs' counsel claimed that the plaintiff's decedent had been assigned an Individualized education plan that specified that he required six-to-one supervision while on the school's grounds. He also claimed that the plaintiff's decedent parents had previously submitted a document indicating that plaintiff's decedent often eloped, which is a common trait among autistic children. Plaintiffs' counsel claimed that evidence suggested that the plaintiff's decedent had attempted to elope during the same transition process one day prior to his actual elopement. He noted that a safety agent witnessed the plaintiff's decedent departure but did not intervene, thus violating a school policy that prohibited unescorted exits by students.

Plaintiffs' counsel also contended that the school's security system was inadequate. He noted that the plaintiff's decedent escaped via a door that had failed to fully close after its prior use. He further noted that, though a guard was stationed near the door, the guard was unable to see the door while seated at her desk. Plaintiffs' counsel also noted that the school's doors were not alarmed, despite the presence of special-needs students. He claimed that the school's video-based surveillance system did not provide a live video stream to the school's safety agent. He also claimed that the surveillance system was not readily accessible and that, as a result, two or more hours passed before the plaintiff's decedent absence was confirmed by school officials.

The parties negotiated a pretrial settlement. The defendant agreed to pay $2.7 million.

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