Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Court Sides with Parents in Wrongful Death Suit

16-year-old collapsed in Beall High classroom more than four years ago

Alison Bunting
Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND - (Sept. 6, 2006) - More than four years later, the parents of a 16-year-old Beall High School student who died after she suddenly collapsed in the classroom each were awarded $300,000 Friday in Allegany County Circuit Court.

Cora J. Houdersheldt and David Sines were represented by Cumberland attorneys Jason C. Buckel and S. Ramani Pillai in a jury trial for the civil case presided over by Judge W. Timothy Finan.

Kelly Sines was in science class April 12, 2002, when she got up to turn in a test or quiz and collapsed, according to Greg Smith, then principal at Beall High.

The state medical examiner later named the cause of death as cardiac arrhythmia, a change from the normal rate or control of the heart’s muscle contractions. She was not on drugs and there was no evidence of foul play, according to C3I investigators.

According to previous reports in the Times-News, Smith said an emergency medical technician was on staff and was able to begin working on Sines just after she collapsed. She reportedly collapsed at 1:37 p.m. and members of the crisis response team were in the school by 1:45 p.m.

Buckel and Pillai said in a press release Tuesday that Sines died as a result of negligence by the Allegany County Board of Education.

“At that time, Allegany County schools did not have automated external defibrillators and, as a result, school personnel trained in CPR and in how to use a defibrillator were unable to utilize the only medical device which could have saved Kelly’s life,” according to Buckel and Pillai.

“Significantly, the jury found that a substantial period of time went by from the moment of Kelly’s collapse until school officials notified appropriate emergency medical personnel,” according to the attorneys.

“The delay caused or contributed to Kelly’s death, as Dr. Larry Rhodes, the chief of pediatric cardiology at West Virginia University Hospital testified ...” and ... “that Kelly had a high probability of survival if she had been defibrillated within a 6- to-8-minute window from the time of her collapse,” Buckel and Pillai said.

The Cumberland attorneys noted that the Allegany County school system did not have a legal obligation to provide AEDs in the schools as of April 2002, however, in the 2006 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law requiring all school systems in the state to have automated external defibrillators in their school buildings.

The Allegany County Board of Education was represented by Timothy E. Fizer of the Baltimore firm Krause, Fizer, Crogan and Lopez.

Defendants initially included Smith, Beall High School, Superintendent Bill AuMiller and Allegany County.

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