Suit: Lack of school nurse contributed to 12-year-old asthmatic girl's death

By Jim Boyle | Sep 3, 2014

A sixth grade girl's 2013 death from an asthma attack may have been prevented if there had been a nurse available to administer the inhaler medicine in time, according to a wrongful death suit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The administrators of Laporshia Massey's estate have sued the School District of Philadelphia and her school, the W.C. Bryant Promise Academy, for its decision not to have a full-time nurse on staff to carry out its policy of not allowing students to take their prescribed medications without the presence of a school nurse.

The principal and teacher have also been named defendants for their alleged failure to recognize the severity of Massey's asthma attack and not taking the proper measures to keep her safe. The suit seeks compensatory damages in excess of $150,000 for each of the six counts, plus punitive damages.

According to the complaint, 12-year-old Massey had a well-documented case of asthma that was known to her teachers and school administrators. On Sept. 25, 2013, she began to complain to her teacher that she had difficulty breathing. Since there was not a nurse on duty to supervise the use of her inhaler, Massey was unable to take her medication.

The complaint says that the unidentified teacher told Massey to "be calm" and kept her in class until dismissal, never calling emergency services or transporting her to the hospital.

When Massey arrived home, the complaint says that she was immediately taken to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. While on the way, Massey went into respiratory arrest, and CPR attempts by hospital personnel were unsuccessful. The complaint says the Philadelphia Medical Examiner pointed to acute exacerbation of asthma as the cause of death.

Massey's death caught national attention as a tragic consequence of the School District of Philadelphia's budget woes. Two weeks after her death, the state authorized an extra $45 million to the school district's budget, but that money was used to rehire laid-off teachers and other administrative staff.

Superintendent William Hite argued that the school district had met the state standard of one nurse per 1,500 students. The nurse assigned to Bryant was scheduled to be at the school two days a week, with the remainder days at another school.

The complaint claims that Massey's death was a result of negligent actions by the school district and Bryant's administrative staff, which allegedly failed to properly train its staff to recognize medical emergencies and when situations require contacting emergency services.

The defendants are accused of being indifferent to Massey's medical emergency and caused her to unjustly experience pain and suffering before her death.

The plaintiffs are represented by Michael D. Pomerantz of the Marrone Law Firm in Philadelphia.

The federal case ID number is 2:14-cv-05046-NIQA.

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