Panish Shea & Boyle LLP Obtains $11 Million Settlement Following Wrongful Death of Murrieta Student Alex Pierce
PSB attorneys Brian Panish, Rahul Ravipudi and Robert Glassman obtained an $11,000,000 settlement for the family of Alex Pierce, a 13-year-old Murrieta middle school student who tragically drowned while under the supervision of Murrieta Valley Unified School District (MVUSD) staff and personnel. In addition to the monetary settlement and as a condition of the agreement with the family, MVUSD will implement changes to its otherwise non-existent School Safety Plan policies and procedures and has issued a letter of apology to the family for the circumstances that led to Alex’s death. Plaintiffs were also represented in the case by Scott Liljegren of Liljegren Law Group.
On what would have been a typical day of celebration for the Pierce family, Sabrina and Rodriquez Pierce instead joined attorneys Ravipudi and Glassman at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta for a press conference on Tuesday to discuss the terms and conditions of the settlement with MVUSD and address the circumstances that led to the death of their son.
“Alex would be 16 years old today if the most basic safety protocols and procedures were in place at Murrieta Valley Unified School District on June 3, 2016,” said Mr. Ravipudi. “We are proud of the Pierce family for remaining vigilant in their quest to seek justice for Alex and we’re hopeful that bringing these deficiencies to light will force school districts throughout California to re-evaluate and update their safety protocols to protect our children.”
On June 3, 2016, 7th grader Alex Pierce traveled to the Vista Murrieta High School swimming pool with his Dorothy McElhinney Middle School classmates to participate in a year-end swim party. The students were under the direct supervision of MVUSD staff and personnel who chaperoned the outing as well as Murrieta Valley High School student lifeguards who were “on duty” watching over the kids as they swam. Video surveillance taken from the pool shows Alex slipped under the water and remained submerged for nearly two minutes with no rescue efforts by lifeguards, school district faculty or personnel. Instead, it was Alex’s classmates who brought him to the surface where two student lifeguards put him on a floating backboard and kept him in the pool for approximately seven minutes without performing any life-saving measures. Paramedics arrived and removed Alex from the pool, placed him on the deck with the backboard beneath him to administer CPR before transporting him to a nearby hospital. Due to the severity of his injuries, Alex was airlifted to a second hospital where he was placed on life support and remained in a coma until July 7, 2016, when Alex was declared brain dead and his family said their final good-byes.
At the demand of the Pierce family, Alex’s death has led to significant changes to Murrieta Valley Unified School District policies and procedures in regards to the safety of its students, which include providing mandatory CPR training to all MVUSD faculty and obtaining a safety check of the District’s pool facilities by an independent third party. All training and pool safety compliance inspections must be completed by May 2020, with findings made publicly available on the MVUSD website. Additionally, the Pierce family and their attorneys are working with Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) to introduce a water safety and rescue training bill to be named in Alex’s honor.
Murrieta Valley Unified School District was represented in the case by Jeffrey A. Smith, Steven J. Lowery and Patricia A. Lynch of Declues, Burkett & Thompson, APC as well as Thomas E. Beach and Spencer H. Jenkins of Beach | Cowdrey | Jenkins, LLP.