The Maher Law Firm Announces $800,000 Settlement of Federal Civil Rights Claims Arising from Special Needs Student’s Death

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In a statement, the law firm expresses hope that the child’s legacy will ultimately result in an improvement in the services for Exceptional Student Education (ESE) students in Hillsborough County and throughout the country.

Isabella’s legacy will ultimately result in an improvement in the services for ESE students in Hillsborough County and, indeed, throughout the entire country.

The Maher Law Firm announced today that an $800,000 settlement has been reached to resolve federal civil rights claims that the firm filed against the Hillsborough County School Board and Hillsborough County School District on behalf of the family of Isabella Herrera, an Exceptional Student Education (ESE) student who died aboard a district school bus in January 2012.

Attorneys Daniel W. Cotter, Steven R. Maher and Melissa H. Powers of The Maher Law Firm represented the child’s parents, Dennis and Lisa Herrera.

The Hillsborough County School Board approved the settlement on April 1, 2014.

Lisa Herrera spoke at the meeting and gave remarks that were covered by several news outlets, including the Tampa Bay Times. (“Mother says educators did not learn enough from her child’s death,” April 1, 2014).

The Hillsborough County Probate Court approved the settlement the following day.

The law firm has issued a statement about the case that can be viewed in full at the firm’s website,

“The legal case prosecuted as a result of Isabella’s tragic and senseless death has ended. However, the Herrera family’s loss will never end. No sum of money can compensate the Herrera family for this loss,” the firm states.

“The Herrera family wishes to thank the thousands of members of the community who have supported their family through this difficult time and in supporting them in their pursuit of justice and accountability. They are humbled and grateful for this support. It is their hope that any other family who may be seeking positive change for their child in the Hillsborough County School District may be inspired by Isabella’s story,” the firm adds in the statement.

Isabella Herrera began to experience difficulty breathing as she rode home on a school bus from her elementary school on January 26, 2012, according to court documents.

Instead of calling 911, the bus driver and an aide, following school district policy, attempted to contact a supervisor before calling Lisa Herrera, who arrived at the scene minutes later and called 911. The child was unresponsive when she arrived at the hospital. A day later, she died at age 7, court documents state.

The case was litigated in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa before the Honorable James S. Moody, Jr. (Case No. 8:12-CV-02484-JSM-EAJ).

The family alleged that the Hillsborough County School District engaged in “deliberate indifference and/or gross misjudgment with regard to the safety and well-being of ESE students, especially with regard to specialized transportation needs.”

The Maher Law Firm reports that the firm took 10 depositions in litigating the case, including those of the Hillsborough County School District superintendent and the Hillsborough County School District chairperson. The depositions are a matter of public record, the firm notes.

The Maher Law Firm additionally notes that four members of the school system’s transportation staff sent a memorandum to the Hillsborough County School Board regarding concerns with the transportation of special needs students. (“Bus drivers tell Hillsborough School Board of problems, low morale,” The Tampa Tribune, February 25, 2014).

In its statement, The Maher Law Firm points to several “positive changes” within the Hillsborough County public school system, including training and authorization for transportation staff to call 911 first if there is a medical emergency on a school bus. Additionally, school board members now directly receive all incident reports.

“Isabella’s case will likely be used as an example to learn from by national experts in special needs student transportation,” the firm states. “Isabella’s legacy will ultimately result in an improvement in the services for ESE students in Hillsborough County and, indeed, throughout the entire country.”

About The Maher Law Firm

The Maher Law Firm is a nationally recognized personal injury law firm that is dedicated to protecting the rights of those who have been injured due to the negligence or wrongful conduct of others. The firm represents clients in Florida and across the United States. The firm focuses in the areas of motor vehicle accidents, product liability and premises liability as well as in cases involving the abuse and neglect of nursing home residents, home health care patients and special needs children and adults. The firm’s main office is located at 631 West Morse Boulevard, Suite 200, Winter Park, FL 32789 (phone number 407-839-0866). For more information, please contact the firm through its online form.

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