The Florida Supreme Court recently handed down a decision that I expect will change how school districts handle school sports. Parents of a former high school student who suffered ventricular fibrillation during a soccer game on a school field can now sue the school district for failure to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) on him. This is a change in Florida law since courts had already recognized that Florida law did not require the coaches and other school employees to do so. This reversal of Florida law provides an avenue for this family to sue, but it also exposes Florida public schools to financial liability far greater than they faced yesterday. What this means for the future of youth sports in Florida is anyone’s guess.
What happened? Abel Limones collapsed during a soccer game at a Lee County high school. Adults called 911 and performed CPR, but could not revive Abel. There was an AED on campus, but it wasn’t used. When emergency medical personnel arrived, they restarted Abel’s heart with a semi-automatic defibrillator and intravenous medication. He survived, but remains severely brain-damaged, in a persistent vegetative state.
The family’s lawyers argued that the court should hold the school district-at bottom, the taxpayers-financially responsible. The lower courts recognized that Florida law prohibited such a conclusion. But the Florida Supreme Court saw fit to disagree. In a 5-2 ruling, the Supreme Court said the Lee County School District had a reasonable duty to provide aid to Abel Limones Jr., a former East Lee County High School student, after he collapsed during a soccer game in 2008. Whether school officials failed in meeting that duty, the Supreme Court said, should be up to a jury.
The final outcome of the case could have widespread impact on the responsibilities of school officials to provide medical care to students, and the liability they could be exposed to by failing to provide that care. It will be interesting to see how this decision will change school sports.
Read the Supreme Court’s decision here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2015/sc13-932.pdf