County School System Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit

SNOW HILL – A wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Worcester County Board of Education following the 2016 death of a Cedar Chapel Special School student has been settled.

School system officials confirmed Thursday that the wrongful death lawsuit filed against the school system and a former Cedar Chapel staff member by the parents of a student who died in 2016 had been settled.

“MABE (Maryland Association of Boards of Education), our insurance carrier, has been handling this case and we have been made aware that a settlement was made,” said Carrie Sterrs, the school system’s coordinator of public relations and special programs.

In January, lawyers for Pocomoke residents Patricia and Richard Richardson filed a wrongful death suit in Worcester County Circuit Court against former Cedar Chapel employee Richard Blessing, the Worcester County Board of Education and Cedar Chapel Special School.

The Richardsons’ 15-year-old son, a student at Cedar Chapel, passed away in January 2016. According to the complaint, the boy, who had a history of seizures, was in the pool as part of his Adaptive Aquatics program when he “stopped swimming and submerged.”

“…the staff at Cedar Chapel Special School ineptly attempted to administer emergency care,” the complaint reads.

They used an automated external defibrillator even though the boy was still breathing and had a pulse, according to the complaint. He was eventually transported to Peninsula Regional Medical Center where he later died.

The first count outlined in the complaint alleges that Blessing failed to recognize the boy’s seizure activity before he entered the pool and failed to discontinue the aquatics program after noticing unusual behavior, among other things. The second and third count included in the complaint address the liability of Cedar Chapel Special School and the Worcester County Board of Education.

“As a direct and proximate result of the defendant’s actions and omissions, decedent suffered death by near drowning in the defendant’s swimming pool,” the complaint reads.

The complaint said the Richardsons were seeking $400,000 in damages.

Attorneys for the school system filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing various issues with the complaint. School system attorneys said Cedar Chapel was not a proper party in the lawsuit, as it is just a building, and that Blessing could not be held individually liable because he was shielded from personal liability as an employee of the school system. Among other issues cited, the attorneys for the school system stated the plaintiffs’ damage claims should be stricken, as Maryland law states that demand for more than $75,000 should not specify an amount.

The motion to dismiss the case was withdrawn Oct. 30 once a settlement was reached.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.