Moises Murillo, 8, had Down syndrome and died in 2017 after falling off a chair at school and severing his spinal cord
A Southern California family reached an $18m settlement with a school district after their 8-year-old son with Down syndrome died from falling off a chair and severing his spinal cord while under the school’s care back in 2017, local news reported.
The attorney for Moises Murillo, who lived in La Puente, a city located about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, said Wednesday that because of the child’s disability, he was unable to move around or sit upright without the assistance of an adaptive stroller.
On 31 May 2017, however, a teacher at Sunset Elementary School who had not been properly briefed on the child’s disability, otherwise referred to as his individualised education program (IEP), removed the 8-year-old from his specialised stroller and strapped him into a chair using a belt designed to help to prevent falls for people in a weakened state (a gait belt).
Not long after placing the child in the seat, the classroom educators returned to other duties, turning their attention away for just long enough for the child to suffer a fatal fall, the attorney explained.
“They put him in this predicament and then they proceeded to turn their back on him leaving him alone and without any supervision whatsoever,” he said during a press conference, according to NBC LA.
When the Moises fell to the concrete of the classroom floor, he suffered an injury that ultimately severed his spinal cord, forcing the child to stop breathing. The 8-year-old was rushed to Queen of the Valley Hospital before he was transferred to Children’s Health of Orange County, but he never regained consciousness and was kept on life support for less than week before doctors were able to determine that he would not recover from the deadly fall, Mr Vartazarian said. Four days later, on 4 June 2017, the 8-year-old died.
“My brother did mean everything to us. Until this day, my mom might look like she’s OK, that she’s fine, but she’s not,” said the sister of Moises, Lizbeth Murillo, during the same Wednesday press conference. “He was always happy. He would always make everybody happy.”
The settlement, which was reached with the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, arrived after years of a “hard fought” legal battle, the attorney said Wednesday, noting that – as is a common stipulation in these cases – the school district maintained there was no wrongdoing on their part.
Details of the settlement had not been made public, but Mr Vartazarian was able to disclose certain key elements from the document, including the specific amount of compensation, as was first reported by The Los Angeles Times.
The case, which was opened in January 2018, was officially settled on 22 June, one week before it was set to go to trial.
“We fought for years to get some answers about what happened and this district will not answer any questions about it. Instead they tried to sweep in under the rug like nothing happened,” Mr Vartazarian said.
The Independent reached out to Hacienda-La Puente Unified for a comment but did not immediately hear back before publication.
Moises’ family and attorney continued to press for answers to their questions regarding why Moises’ IEP – the outline provided to the school which details a plan for children with disabilities, including any special treatment or equipment that must be utilised in a classroom setting – was not followed, as they want to ensure that a tragedy such as the one they’ve suffered doesn’t happen again.
“The question to the school district will be, ‘are you going to do anything different as a result of this tragedy here at the school?’” Mr Vartazarian said.
For the family’s part, the settlement does little to mend the grieving hole left behind by Moises’ untimely and what they believe was a preventable death.
“So no, money doesn’t bring everyone together, it doesn’t bring happiness, it doesn’t bring closure. No it doesn’t,” Ms Lizbeth said.