School's lack of defibrillator said to be a cause in death of football player. $8M. Alameda County.

Summary

Freshman collapses and dies on field during football practice.

The Case

  • Case Name: Pulido v. Alameda Unified School District
  • Court and Case Number: Alameda Superior Court / RG17859762
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, January 22, 2020
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, May 10, 2017
  • Type of Action: Negligence, Wrongful Death, Highlighted Verdicts
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Jo-Lynne Q. Lee
  • Plaintiffs:
    Antonio Pulido and Yolanda Mejia
  • Defendants:
    Alameda Unified School District
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $8,000,000
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    $8,000,000 against Alameda Unified School District.

  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
  • Economic Damages:

    No claim for economic damages was made.

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Antonio Pulido

    Past: $1,000,000

    Future: $3,000,000

    Yolanda Mejia

    Past: $1,000,000

    Future: $3,000,000

  • Punitive Damages:

    None sought.

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 9 weeks.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 1/2 days.
  • Jury Polls: 12-0 for liability, 9-3 for damages.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Banafsheh, Danesh & Javid, PC by Shawn J. McCann and Jesse E. French, Beverly Hills.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Leone & Alberts by Katherine A. Alberts and James T. Gotch, Concord.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Bennet Omalu, M.D., forensic pathology, Stockton.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Henry Sanchez, M.D., pathology, San Francisco.

    Seth Hollander, M.D., pediatric cardiology, Palo Alto.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Douglas Casa, Ph.D., ATC, FNAK, FACSM, FNATA, heat illness and standard of care, Storrs, CT.

    Andrew Grundstein, Ph.D., climatology, Athens, GA.

    Jonathan Drezner, M.D., standard of care regarding automated external defibrillators, Seattle, WA.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Cindy Chang, M.D., standard of care regarding automated external defibrillators, San Francisco.

    Michael Pechner, meteorology, San Francisco.

    Chris Fore, standard of care for high school football coaches, Apple Valley.

    Calvin Hwang, M.D., sports medicine and standard of care, Palo Alto.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Decedent Giovani Pulido is the son of plaintiffs Antonio Pulido and Yolanda Mejia. On May 17, 2016, Giovani Pulido collapsed during football practice at Encinal High School. His coaches started CPR and called 911. The coaches did not use an automated external defibrillator because Encinal High School did not have one.

    Statutory law at the time did not require schools to have automated external defibrillators. Paramedics were on the field within approximately five minutes and attempted defibrillation without success. The paramedics then transferred Giovani Pulido to the hospital where additional life-saving efforts failed. Giovani Pulido was pronounced dead at 7:04 p.m. with a diagnosis of sudden cardiac arrest with unclear etiology.

    At the time of his death, Giovani Pulido was a 15-year-old freshman. The football practice where he collapsed was the second practice of spring football. The eight coaches who ran the practice were employees or agents of defendant Alameda Unified School District. In this capacity, they were responsible for the 40-50 high school students who attended the practice. At 5:00 p.m., when practice started, the sun was out, the ambient air temperature was 77 degrees and there was a breeze on the football field. Practice proceeded without pads or helmets, and involved a mix of instructional periods, drills, and waiting periods where students would wait their turn to complete each drill. In the first 40 minutes of practice, students completed multiple drills and waiting periods, followed by a 10-minute instructional period. At approximately 5:50 p.m., the students began a pursuit drill that included up-downs and running to designated locations. Giovani Pulido collapsed during the pursuit drill around 5:54 p.m. By that time, the ambient air temperature had cooled to 75 degrees. Close to one third of the practice was captured on video by a bystander. The video shows Giovani Pulido participating with other students in instructional periods, drills, and waiting periods.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiffs contended that the coaches running the practice failed to complete the proper training, including heat illness training offered by the National Federation of State High School Associations and training required by the California Interscholastic Federation. Due to the lack of training, the coaches developed and implemented a practice plan that was inappropriate for the environmental conditions and the students on the field.

    The coaches were also unprepared to recognize signs and symptoms of heat illness that Giovani Pulido may have shown before his collapse. Plaintiffs contended that the coaches allowed Giovani Pulido to practice even though he had not completed a pre-participation physical examination or related paperwork. Both the physical examination and the paperwork were required by defendant’s safety polices and the California Interscholastic Federation.

    Plaintiffs also alleged that the coaches did not provide adequate water breaks for students during practice. Specifically, there should have been designated water breaks, with coaches making sure that the students were drinking water. Plaintiffs presented testimony from students that coaches sometimes denied student requests for water.

    Plaintiffs contended that the school should have had an automated external defibrillator accessible for use within 3-5 minutes of Giovani Pulido’s collapse. Plaintiffs argued that the negligence of defendant's coaches and administrators was a substantial factor in causing Giovani Pulido’s death.

    According to plaintiffs, Giovani Pulido had some level of dehydration during practice and the exertion of the practice increased his body temperature and the demand on his heart. Ultimately, Giovani’s heart arrested from the combination of these factors.

     

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant contended that the coaches running the practice were fit and competent because they had years of experience playing and coaching high school and college football.

    Defendant also took the following positions: the coaches had completed the training required by the California Interscholastic Federation. At least one coach had completed the heat illness training recommended by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Further, the coaches’ practice plan was within the standard of care and exceeded the practice plans of most high school coaches in California.

    Defendant alleged that Giovani Pulido completed a pre-participation physical examination and the related forms before practicing on May 17, 2016. Defendant stated that the examination was on or after March 9, 2016, with Giovani Pulido’s pediatrician. In the March 9 examination, the pediatrician found that the examination was normal and believed that Giovani Pulido could have been cleared for football. At the time of trial, however, the physician did not recall whether she had signed a physical examination form for Giovani Pulido.

    Defendant contended that Giovani Pulido received adequate water breaks during practice. The coaches provided snacks and water for students at study hall before practice. The coaches testified that they encouraged Giovani Pulido and the other students to hydrate before and during practice. The coaches stated that they allowed students to get water whenever they wanted from a water horse  (a hydration station) that was on-field and in working order. One of the coaches took Giovani Pulido’s position group to the water horse to get water before Giovani Pulido collapsed. According to defendant, these efforts were sufficient for a practice that involved little exertion and was mostly a walk-through. Defendant alleged that the standard of care did not require secondary schools in California to have automated external defibrillators.

    Defendant contended that Giovani Pulido did not suffer from heat illness because of the following: Giovani Pulido did not have signs and symptoms of heat illness during practice and his skin temperature was normal post-collapse. Moreover, his body temperature was never measured by EMT or ER staff, making a diagnosis of heat illness impossible. Defendant presented expert testimony that Giovani Pulido’s collapse and death were caused by a pre-existing, undiagnosed genetic condition (channelopathy with cardiomyopathy). Because of this condition, Giovani Pulido could have suffered cardiac arrest at any time.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Death of plaintiffs’ son. Loss of care, comfort, society, love, and non-economic support of plaintiffs’ son.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $5,999,999
  • Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: $5,500,000
  • Plaintiff Demand during Trial: $4,500,000
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $1,350,000

Additional Notes

Plaintiffs served a demand for $5,999,999 under Code of Civil Procedure section 998 on February 1, 2018. The parties then completed a private mediation and two mandatory settlement conferences before trial. Plaintiffs’ final pre-trial demand was $5,500,000. Defendant’s final pre-trial offer was $1,350,000. A third settlement conference was held during trial without settlement. Plaintiffs’ final demand was $4,500,000.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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