Nearly two years after the on-campus drowning death of San Ramon Valley High School freshman Ben Curry, the family of the teenager is set to receive $8 million from the San Ramon Valley Unified School District after an agreement was reached to settle the Currys' pending lawsuit.
The agreement, which came to light after a notice of settlement was filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court on Monday, also calls for the wrongful-death case to be dismissed with the district admitting no liability for Curry's death.
Curry drowned during his physical education class -- which consisted of one teacher monitoring 57 students -- in the Danville school's pool on May 8, 2018, after slipping under the water unnoticed and becoming unresponsive.
Curry would not be found submerged in the pool until the start of the next class, after the school's lunch period. The 15-year-old boy was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital that afternoon.
"They are relieved that the litigation is over and the pain of their loss will never end," Curry family attorney Andrew Schwartz, of Walnut Creek-based firm Casper, Meadows, Schwartz & Cook, told the Weekly on Monday.
Schwartz added that Aaron Becker, the PE teacher in charge of Curry's class, had previously filed a motion seeking to dismiss punitive damage claims against himself, which was granted by Judge Steven K. Austin on Jan. 30.
The settlement, which resolves the entire lawsuit, was reached days before the case was set to head to trial on Feb. 18.
"Everyone recognizes that this was a tragic accident. The district has expressed its sincere condolences to the parents for their loss and the district has been trying to resolve this matter informally even before a lawsuit was filed," said Mark Davis, an attorney representing the SRVUSD. "At least from our standpoint we are glad that the parties could reach an amicable settlement (before the) emotional distress and expense associated with trial."
Davis added that the settlement will be paid using funds from the SRVUSD and a joint powers authority insurance pool that SRVUSD is a part of with other school districts.
No other details about the settlement have been released thus far. The full terms have not been filed in court to date.
Becker's attorney had not responded to a request for comment as of press time Wednesday.
Ben's parents, Karen and Thomas Curry, filed a lawsuit with the Contra Costa County Superior Court in November 2018, claiming negligence and willful misconduct by SRVUSD and Becker -- who remains employed as a teacher and varsity football head coach -- led directly to the boy's death.
"Plaintiffs believe that the SRVUSD and its employees owed a duty of care to Benjamin Curry to supervise, protect, assist and control the safety of Benjamin, and they failed to do so," Schwartz wrote in the original lawsuit.
In his ruling to dismiss punitive damages against Becker, Judge Austin wrote on Jan. 30 that he found Becker did not act with an evil motive, as would need to be proven for punitive damages.
"What demonstrates a defendant's required evil motive is not just that he mistakenly causes injury, but that he mistakenly causes injury repeatedly and does not care. That is not what occurred here," Austin wrote in granting Becker's dismissal motion.
"There may be cases of nondeliberate injury in which the knowledge of injury is so established, the degree so severe, and its likelihood so certain that punitive damages would be proper without repeated instances of prior injury, but this is not one of them," the judge said, adding:
"To permit punitive damages on the evidence here would blur the line between the more typical case of mere negligence and the much rarer case of conscious disregard and despicable conduct, where punitive damages are permitted."
After their investigation in spring 2018, Danville police recommended no criminal charges be filed against Becker or anyone else, stating that detectives found no signs of foul play or criminal neglect -- confirming findings from the county coroner's autopsy report that the death was accidental and not self-inflicted as some initial reports falsely suggested.
"Although the decedent suffered from depression, there is no indication the decedent intended to drown himself," according to the coroner's report, signed May 31, 2018. "Based on the investigation there is no evidence of foul play, and no indication that the decedent intended to harm himself."
SRVUSD Superintendent Rick Schmitt publicly apologized to the Curry family for the freshman's death on campus in a statement released on Nov. 2, 2018.
"This event was and will remain a tragedy in our hearts and minds forever. The District sincerely apologizes to the Curry family and all community members," Schmitt said. "There are no words to describe the collective sorrow following the loss of Ben."