The family of a La Cañada High School special education student is suing the school district, claiming that negligence by district employees resulted in the boy being seriously injured when he fell from the bleachers during an assembly on May 20, 2016 in Hotchkin Gymnasium.
The case is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 22. Attorney Robert Glassman will argue that the district’s failure to install guardrails on the bleachers from which Ethan Kalnins, who suffers from cerebral palsy, fell. The fall caused a fractured hip and led to resulting physical, emotional and psychological duress, Glassman said.
Kalnins, who was a 17-year-old junior at the time of the incident, still attends LCHS, where he’s a senior.
“Unfortunately for Ethan, he has cerebral palsy and left side heavy paresis, so his recovery is going to be delayed and he will require additional rehab that will take longer than it would for a person who didn’t have his underlying issues,” Glassman said. “So he’s looking at, according to his doctors, a lifetime of physical therapy, and unfortunately for him, future surgeries as well.
“[The district has] admitted they had the power and ability to fix this dangerous condition before this incident,” Glassman added. “But they chose not to and now they’re putting this poor kid and his family through this.”
In a statement, LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette stated that LCUSD is aware of the brief that’s been filed ahead of the trial next month and that “the district has made efforts to settle, and has also rectified the very condition that is the subject of the plaintiff’s complaint.”
Otherwise, she said, LCUSD “must refrain from further comment out of respect for the privacy rights of the plaintiff.”
Glassman said the district has not offered a settlement.
“The district has not offered a single penny to Ethan or his family,” Glassman said. “I would know if they did and not a single penny has been offered.”
After the lawsuit was filed, Glassman said LCUSD added permanent guardrails to the bleachers, at a cost of almost $25,000. Before that, according to the lawsuit, when Glassman and a safety and engineering expert inspected the bleachers on Dec. 8, 2016, they discovered that although none of the bleachers in the gym had guardrails, those guardrails were inside the gym, locked in a corner.
According to the brief, Mark Evans, LCUSD’s chief business and operations officer, responded to questions about those unused guardrails by saying, “I don’t know why that was the case … I spoke with people at the site, the custodians who had been there for several years. And they simply had not ever installed them to their memory.”
Glassman also said Kalnins was supposed to have been supervised by an aide at the assembly.
“On this particular day, that aide wasn’t doing what she was supposed to be doing,” Glassman said. “So Ethan was allowed to be up there on the bleachers, unprotected.”
Glassman said his client fell from one of the upper bleachers. Following the fall, Glassman said a teacher moved Kalnins and put him in a wheelchair before paramedics arrived, an action that the attorney suggests might have worsened the student’s injuries.
“That was also completely careless,” Glassman said. “You never touch someone who’s suffered some kind of injury like Ethan did; this teacher was not a trained professional, and he moved his body, which very well likely could have injured him more.”
According to Glassman, paramedics arrived shortly after the fall and transported Kalnins to Huntington Memorial Hospital, where he underwent surgery and observation for five days before being transferred to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, where he spent nearly a month engaged in occupational and physical therapy. When he was released, Kalnins spent the summer in a wheelchair.
Since his return to school the following fall, Kalnins has required a one-to-one special education aide to be with him for the duration of the school day and began attending counseling sessions with the school therapist in addition to his multiple physical therapy sessions each week. He can only attend classes on the ground floor, Glassman said, because he’s a “considerable fall risk.”
“He’s a strong kid, and he loves super heroes,” Glassman said. “But unfortunately, despite his positive attitude, he’s going to have significant limitations for the rest of his life.”