Spady v. Bethlehem Area Sch. Dist. – Dry Drowning at Public School Swim

The case of Spady v. Bethlehem Area Sch. Dist., involves the drowning of a 15-year-old public school student of a rare form of asphyxiation known as “dry drowning” or “secondary drowning.”
According to court records, the teen didn’t want to go in the pool during gym class, but all students – even non-swimmers like himself – were required to do so through the duration of the class or else suffer a poor grade. Non-swimmers were allowed to venture into the deeper end while holding onto the edge of the pool.

This is what the teen did, and as he got closer to the deep end, he bumped into another group of students at the deep end and went under. Friends said he emerged in a panic, but quickly climbed out of the pool. The teacher allowed him to sit on the bench for a time, and then went to check on him. The teen didn’t want to go back in, but the teacher, not noting any physical distress, said he had to unless he wanted his grade to suffer.

He got back in the pool, finished the class and then proceed on to English class. Friends noted he seemed ill, not himself. A few minutes into English class, he fell backward in his chair and began seizing. He was transported to the hospital and later pronounced dead.

The otherwise healthy teen suffered from a condition known as delayed drowning, which is when a swimmer inhales a small amount of water, but isn’t immediately incapacitated. Instead, there is water damage to the lungs that causes them to fill up with fluid. Without immediate medical attention, it can be fatal.

The boy’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district, the gym teacher and the lifeguard, alleging there was a failure to keep a proper lookout and the officials weren’t trained to recognize swimmers at risk for the condition her son suffered. She alleged that had they noticed what was wrong and immediately sent him to the school nurse, he may have survived. She asserted this failure amounted to reckless indifference.

Unfortunately, the trial court disagreed and, more recently, so did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The court stated plaintiff layers did not bring to its attention – nor could it find on its own – any instances or controlling authority which would clearly establish that a reasonable gym teacher would have been aware his actions were unconstitutional. That is, the teen didn’t have a clearly established constitutional right to be protected by dry-drowning prevention protocols while participating in physical education class.

The only other cases that came close included one that occurred in 2013, where a teen drowned during a science experiment, and another where a student suffered a neck injury after diving into the shallow end of the pool during physical education class. However in both cases, the courts found plaintiffs were unable to make a constitutional claim, and thus don’t support plaintiff’s position.

Contact our Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Spady v. Bethlehem Area Sch. Dist., Sept. 1, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

More Blog Entries:
North Carolina Day Care Sued for Child Injury, Abuse, Neglect, Sept. 1, 2015, Charlotte Child Injury Lawyer Blog

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