Overweight 12-year-old fractures bones while jumping knee-high hurdle in P.E.
Reading time: 4 minutes.
Editor’s Note:This is another installment in our occasional series, It’s Your Money, that looks more closely at public expenses that taxpayers may not realize they’re being asked to pay.
An overweight 12-year-old tripped while attempting to jump over a hurdle during her physical education class at Moanalua Middle School in August 2008. She ended up fracturing her knee and needing surgery. Now, taxpayers are expected to pay $30,000 towards her medical bills.
The student’s mother, Carlota Basa, sued the state in 2010, saying that the P.E. teacher, Kui Ramos, didn’t adequately supervise or give enough instruction to her daughter. Basa’s daughter said she was told to “run the hurdles” without any precautions or “practice rounds,” according to the lawsuit.
Despite the lack of practice, the student cleared the first hurdle — which were made of plastic cones and piping and stood about 18 inches tall — but she tripped and fell as she tried to jump over a second hurdle.
“Mr. Ramos should have been aware of the imminent dangers of asking an overweight child to clear hurdles without further instruction or training,” Basa’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.
At the time of the incident, the student was 5 feet tall and weighed 217 pounds, records show.
Ramos told the vice principal that he had in fact showed the class the proper technique, according to court filings.
Civil Beat reached Ramos by phone, but he declined to answer questions, saying that there have been “a lot of issues” with this incident and he “just wants to leave it in the past.”
The state and the girl’s mother went through court arbitration, a process aimed at settling cases before trial. The arbitrator found in Basa’s favor, awarding her $47,755.
“We don’t think the P.E. teacher did anything wrong,” said Caron Inagaki, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General. “But there was a lot of risk [if we had gone to trial] and sympathy for the student, and we did reduce the award quite a bit so that’s why we decided to settle.”
It might have cost the state even more money if the case had gone to trial, especially if the state had to hire experts, Inagaki said.
Civil Beat asked if the state was sending the wrong message by not pursuing the case in court. Would any kid who sprained his or her ankle in P.E. class sue the state for thousands?
“Well, we can’t stop anybody from filing a lawsuit, no matter how frivolous,” said Inagaki. “You just have to look at each case on a case-by-case basis.”
Claims against the state have been piling up. Lawmakers recently approved legislation that authorizes a payout for Basa, along with other settlements totaling nearly $4.5 million in state funds.
Students at Moanalua Middle School do not jump hurdles anymore, but it’s not because of student injuries or this accident, according to Principal Lisa Nagamine. Over the past three years or so, the school has undergone a change in its approach to physical education, focusing more on holistic health instead of competitive sports. The kids are still exercising, said Nagamine, but instead of playing basketball or soccer, they do workouts like zumba, step aerobics and P90X workouts.
“We’re changing over because we’re trying to create a more integrative learning where we teach them how to measure their heart rate and BMI and things like that,” Nagamine told Civil Beat. “It’s more of a healthy lifestyle type of [education], not necessarily team sports like it used to be.”
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues