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Family of disabled Southern California boy who died after fall at school settles suit for $18 million

Gregory Yee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — The family of an 8-year-old La Puente boy with Down syndrome who died in 2017 after falling off a chair at school and severing his spinal cord has reached an $18 million settlement with the district, the family's attorney said Wednesday.

Because of his disability, Moises Murillo could not walk, talk or sit up straight and was supposed to be seated in an adaptive stroller, said Steve Vartazarian, the family's attorney.

On May 31, 2017, a teacher at Sunset Elementary School who was not familiar with Moises' individualized education program, or IEP, couldn't fit the stroller at a desk, Vartazarian said. An IEP outlines the yearly plan for each student with disabilities, including any specialized equipment they must use in the classroom.

The teacher took Moises out of the stroller and strapped him into a chair using a gait belt, Vartazarian said. Soon, the teacher and other classroom staff had their attention turned elsewhere.

Left unsupervised, Moises pushed against the desk and tipped backward, the attorney said. The boy's head struck the concrete floor, and a piece of vertebra severed his spinal cord in his neck, cutting off the brain's signals to his vital organs.

Moises stopped breathing and was taken to Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina before he was transferred to Children's Health of Orange County, where he was kept on life support for four days until it was apparent that he would not recover, Vartazarian said. He died on June 4, 2017.


The settlement agreement with the Hacienda La Puenta Unified School District was reached June 22, Vartazarian said. The settlement document was not made public by Los Angeles County Superior Court, but Vartazarian was able to confirm key details, including the amount of compensation, to the Los Angeles Times.

The district admitted no wrongdoing, a common stipulation in such settlements, the attorney said.

A school district spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Vartazarian said the case was "hard fought for many, many years" prior to the settlement.


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