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SC school district is responsible for elementary student’s wrongful death, lawsuit says

The parents of a Midlands elementary student say say their son died after employees at his Midlands school failed to provide proper care or use life-saving measures during a medical emergency, according to a lawsuit filed last week.

The complaint, filed Nov. 7 on behalf of Christopher and Monique Sandiford, accuses Richland School District 2 and Richland County of gross negligence in the wrongful death of a fourth-grade student at Round Top Elementary, which is located off of Rimer Pond Road in Blythewood.

The student had been diagnosed as an infant with spinal muscular atrophy, a motor neuron disease that caused him to lose some major bodily functions like swallowing, according to the lawsuit. Because of his condition, the student required constant care and a personal nurse. Thus, he had an individual health care plan prepared and an emergency action plan in place, to be administered by his school’s nurses.

On Nov. 9, 2021, the student was unresponsive with signs of respiratory distress. According to the lawsuit, the district “abandoned” the student’s emergency plan, which included laying the student flat, using a cough assist and administering oxygen via a bipap machine. Instead, the district attempted to use a defibrillator, which damaged the student’s heart.

Monique Sandiford was called and was informed that Richland EMS was en route, according to the lawsuit. After the mom arrived at the school, Richland 2 employees stood by “helpless and panicked.” She requested a cough assist, a medical device used to clear an airway. But the lawsuit alleges that there was none readily available even though one was required by the student’s emergency action plan.

Richland 2 representatives had to go find one, which, according to the lawsuit, created “yet another delay in necessary life-saving measures.” The child’s mother attempted to save his life by using the cough assist and a bipap machine until Richland County emergency services arrived.

When the Richland EMS arrived, it was “ill-equipped,” with only an adult size breathing tube, too large for the child. Still, Richland EMS placed the breathing tube on the child and transported him to Prisma Health Richland Hospital.

The child never regained consciousness and succumbed to his injuries two days later, according to the lawsuit.

A district spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The lawsuit accuses Richland 2 of “intentional, malicious, reckless, and grossly negligent” conduct by failing to provide the child with proper care, having “incompetent” personnel, being understaffed and not training district staff, among other issues.

The parents are also suing Richland County for what they say is its failure to provide necessary and basic services to their son, as well as failing to meet EMS industry standards.

The principal and the school nurses at Round Top Elementary, the school’s health room aide, and the district’s coordinator of health services are also being sued in their individual capacities.

According to the lawsuit, the district defendants are liable to medical expenses, physical and mental pain and suffering and other damages.

The parents’ lawyers, Breon Walker and state Rep. Todd Rutherford, could not immediately be reached for comment.