LCUSD, Former Student Move Forward After $2 Million Settlement

More than a year after a $2 million settlement between the school district and a former special education student who was injured in a fall, guardrails protect bleachers at a La Cañada High School gym where the accident occurred and the young man is trying to put the episode behind him.
Attorneys for Ethan Kalnins, a former LCHS student who has cerebral palsy, settled with the La Cañada Unified School District after Kalnins fell off the side of the bleachers in the north gym at LCHS. Guardrails were not affixed to the bleachers at the time.
Kalnins was injured around 10:30 a.m. on May 20, 2016, during the school’s year-end senior salute assembly. Kalnins, then 17, suffered a fractured hip and sustained emotional distress and anxiety, according to court documents. The parties reached the settlement on April 11, 2018, according to documents, but the settlement amount was not released to the press at the time.
Robert Glassman, Kalnins’ attorney, said in an email last week that Kalnins, now 20, is looking ahead after the settlement of his lawsuit against the school district.
“He is focusing on his future and is committed to moving past this challenging chapter in his life,” Glassman said. He said Kalnins’ parents and other relatives have declined comment. The attorney said he was happy with the outcome of the case.
“We are pleased that Ethan was fairly compensated in this case but also incredibly proud of the fact that the family, through their efforts in bringing this case, compelled the school district to make much needed safety improvements in the gym at the school,” Glassman said. “That gym is truly a safer place for students as a result of this case and Ethan and his family. It’s not every day a kid like Ethan can make that kind of huge impact on his or her school.”
Kalnins’ net settlement after fees, costs and liens is $1.082 million and will be distributed and administered by a special needs trust for his sole benefit, according to court documents.
When Kalnins fell from the bleachers, he crashed down on his left side and fractured his hip, documents said.
Paramedics rushed him to Huntington Memorial Hospital, where he underwent surgery on his hip and spent five days for observation. According to court documents, he was transferred to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for in-patient rehabilitation, receiving occupational and physical therapy, because he was unable to move on his own and his family could not lift him.
After a month at the hospital, Kalnins was discharged and spent a summer in a wheelchair trying to regain the strength to walk. He returned to LCHS in fall 2016 and needed a special education aide to be with him the entire school day, according to court documents, which also stated that he needed to participate in multiple physical therapy services per week. He also went to counseling sessions with a school therapist to help him cope with returning to LCHS, and all of his classes had to be on the ground floor.
“When he would get close to the gym where the bleachers were, he shivered,” according to court documents. “The school counselor had to take him a little closer to the gym each day before he could actually walk back inside.”
After the lawsuit was filed, the bleachers in the gym were inspected on Dec. 8, 2016, and none were found to have had guardrails, according to Glassman’s trial brief. Mark Evans, the district’s current associate superintendent of business and administrative services, testified about the bleachers and was asked why the guardrails were not being used.
“When I investigated, they had not been used in recent memory,” said Evans, according to Glassman’s trial brief. “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.”
The district hired a company to install new guardrail systems on the sides of each set of bleachers in the gym for just under $25,000, according to the trial brief. The work took about a week and was completed in August 2017.
LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said the insurance collective to which the district belongs, Alliance of Schools for Cooperative Insurance, decided to settle the Kalnins case with its own funds. The decision to settle was not contingent on board approval or board action, she said.
Sinnette said on Tuesday that LCUSD paid no attorney fees directly to Kalnins’ lawyers, but that fees for any case are capped by the insurance collective for the district at $50,000.
Attorneys who represent the district through the collective are also employed through the collective, Sinnette said. The district pays into the collective, and hence there is no billing of attorney fees through LCUSD, she said.
While the district communicates with the collective and its attorney, the ultimate assessment and decision to settle is at the collective’s discretion, Sinnette said.
The Alliance of Schools for Cooperative Insurance did not return The Outlook’s requests for comment as of Wednesday afternoon.

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