Curry lawsuit: Family of teen who drowned during PE class settles suit with SRVUSD for $8 million | News | PleasantonWeekly.com |

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Curry lawsuit: Family of teen who drowned during PE class settles suit with SRVUSD for $8 million

Attorney says family relieved litigation is over, pain of lost child will never end

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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."

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Comments

21 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 11, 2020 at 9:21 pm

Aaron Becker walked away from his student while he was drowning. Aaron Becker should not be a teacher.


13 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Feb 11, 2020 at 9:55 pm

Ummm....$8M settlement, all parties still employed? Yeah no. Way to screw the taxpayers.

Either guilty - pay out, fired
Or
Innocent- no pay out, employed

How is it the people responsible for funding this decision have zero say.


7 people like this
Posted by LanceM
a resident of Bridle Creek
on Feb 11, 2020 at 10:46 pm

Pleasanton Paret - how do they have zero say? The school board is voted on by them. The meetings are public and any person is free to speak. You can also contact the school board members anytime via email or otherwise.

Was there some huge demand by the people to get this person fired like hundreds or thousands showing up at school board meetings, organizing an email campaign, or anything? It is hard to imagine all of that was ignored.


5 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Feb 11, 2020 at 10:50 pm

Do you really think the school board advised a settlement using taxpayer dollars and no firing?

That was decided independently by lawyers and a union.


9 people like this
Posted by LanceM
a resident of Bridle Creek
on Feb 11, 2020 at 11:06 pm

The district has the final say. The lawyer advises, the client decided. You also have to way the costs of courts, legal fees and potential losses. Do you understand that companies (and other entities like schools) settle lawsuits everyday even when they are not at fault?

I don't really get how you think these are connected. You are talking about firing or not firing and guilty or not guilty. Sorry, but the world is not black and white (like the fantasy world you seem to live in). And yes, a judge found the teacher essentially not guilty in the case.


12 people like this
Posted by jtjh
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Feb 12, 2020 at 4:33 am

The report quotes the judge as having found that the teacher did not act with an evil motive. I think that is rather different from finding someone “not guilty”.


22 people like this
Posted by Carl
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 12, 2020 at 6:10 am

SRVUSD school board is not doing it's job. (removed because it was incorrect.) After (a potential) drowning in Oct 2017 the Cal high PE teacher pleaded with the school board to reduce class size because the next drowning could be fatal. The teacher's prediction was realized on May 8,2018 with the drowning of Ben Curry with 57 students no life guard versus 47 students a teacher and a life guard at the (potential) drowning at Cal High.


20 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 12, 2020 at 6:16 am

One thousand six hundred parents have signed a petition to have Aaron Becker fired for walking away from Ben Curry. The community is outraged that a teacher can walk away from a drowning boy.
Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Feb 12, 2020 at 12:45 pm

Lance,
I understand the cost/benefit decision on settling vs fighting (though I’d point out a history of settling invites more lawsuits....discussion for another day).
But the taxpayers can’t be the only ones held accountable in this outcome.


17 people like this
Posted by Carl
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 13, 2020 at 10:17 am

Editor:
You need to check your dictionary for the definition of drowning. Your edit of my post is in error. Drowning is classified into three types: drowning with death, drowning with ongoing health problems, and drowning with no ongoing health problems", The girl at Cal high was not a victim of (potential) drowning she was not breathing and had no pulse when rescued. She is a victim of drowning. But because of CPR and early rescue she has no ongoing health problems.


21 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2020 at 10:46 am

Yes drowning does not need to result in death to be a drowning. So two drownings occurred in the school district in the same school year. One victim lived and the other died. This shocking fact alone shows why the school district was liable and settled for 8 million.


18 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2020 at 5:49 am

What exactly do you have to do to get fired at san ramon .let a kid die on your watch nope. If Becker actually murdered the kid would he have been fired probably not. Bet if he wore a maga hat instant suspension. Hey look people if this is what you keep voting for,libs, this is what you get.
No accountability. What is a teacher or administrators foremost primary responsibility. Let's all say it together. THE STUDENTS SAFTEY. BECKER FAILED AT THIS AND A CHILD DIED. WHY THE F DOES THIS GUY STILL HAVE A JOB. because the people working in that school and district care more about beckers job than the life and saftey of your child. This is not disputed or Becker would have been fired. Maybe its your child next. Thyleybqere warned over a previous drowning. They demonized the cal teacher who sounded the alarm and let this happen. I think at least ten people I that district should be fired. I also think they should never be able to work in that capacity ever again. Hold people accountable or except the consequences. Would never send my child to a school in that district if they cannot meet their primary obligation and when it's not met hold people accountable. Again what do you have to do to get fired as a teacher?


5 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 18, 2020 at 12:54 pm

The company involved in the $8 million settlement was Keenan and Associates - Torrance, CA. It's a privately held insurance broker - an insurance company. The settlement came from an insurance policy. Taxpayers might be paying for the insurance policy, but not the $8 million.


10 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Feb 18, 2020 at 1:08 pm

Nick,
So it's ok to be responsible for death of a kid as long as you have insurance? What is your point? Maybe it just ok for schools to allow kids to die if the tax payer does not foot the bill.


6 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 18, 2020 at 1:39 pm

Rick - my point was the $8 million came from an insurance policy, NOT the taxpayers - which a few people are saying above. Try reading comprehension next time.


9 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Feb 18, 2020 at 1:56 pm

“ 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.”

Taxpayers are paying. And it’s spread over several districts participating in the pool. And SRVUSD is also paying some separate amount.


4 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 18, 2020 at 2:08 pm

Katherine - Keenan and Associates is an insurance company - a privately held insurance broker. People are saying on Danvillesanramon.com that Keenan and Associates is a law firm handling the settlement. NO - it's a privately held insurance company. Whenever there is a large settlement, and an insurance company is handling it - the money is coming from an insurance policy.

If it wasn't coming from an insurance policy, there would be NO reason to involve an insurance company. Insurance companies pay claims from insurance policies - PERIOD.


4 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 18, 2020 at 2:14 pm

"Since 1972, Keenan has been the leading provider of innovative INSURANCE solutions for schools, colleges, and healthcare organizations."


9 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Feb 18, 2020 at 2:17 pm

I believe, in cases like this, that they merely manage the insurance pool. It is not like homeowners’ insurance where there is a policy. I’ll see if I can find anything on the pool (which is several districts who pay into a fund).


8 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Feb 18, 2020 at 2:37 pm

It has been a Joint Powers Authority. Been some time since I looked for data on it. Might be on the district website somewhere. I also could be wrong, but SRVUSD is paying according to the article.


6 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 18, 2020 at 3:05 pm

"Risk pooling is an INSURANCE practice that groups large numbers of people together to minimize the cost of the highest risk individuals."

I believe SRVUSD is paying. With the help of an insurance policy.


4 people like this
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2020 at 3:23 pm

I think the 8 million came from an ins. policy. If schools can get "active shooter" insurance coverage, they can certainly be insured if a student drowns during PE class.

Where else would 8 million dollars come from? That's a lot of money, and it would be insane for any school district not to have ins. coverage, especially in litigious California.

I think the school district is paying for the ins. policy, which is paid for by taxpayer dollars.


4 people like this
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2020 at 3:47 pm

Joint Powers Authority Insurance Pool

An insurance pool is a gathering of insurance companies for a specific business endeavor, usually when a financial risk for a single company to take on and can only be addressed through shared resources.

So... it's pretty obvious where the money came from.

If you can't figure this out, oh well.


4 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2020 at 8:23 pm

The money ($8 million) came from The Northern California Regional Liability Excess Fund.

This fund was formed to provide a joint program for liability and property damage claims.

Keenan & Associates has a JPA (Joint Power Authority) manager. His name is Ron Martin, as of Sept. 2019.


4 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Feb 18, 2020 at 9:16 pm

Thanks Bill. I appreciate your research.


8 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2020 at 5:42 am

Wow a child dies and the conversation centers around who Is paying out.
Wow wow wow. says it all.


5 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Feb 20, 2020 at 1:12 pm

Wow, the loss of this young man is indeed tragic and the settlement will never change how devastating this was for the family. But there are many aspects to the story worth some discussion, including why the coach is apparently still employed and even how his reported negligence has had a broader impact. I don’t think anyone is forgetting Ben Curry.


Like this comment
Posted by Wow
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2020 at 5:05 am

"But" I think you made my point.
Your posts and others have centered around the payout. But does not change that. You are who you are. I did not support your election because I know who you are.


7 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Feb 22, 2020 at 8:18 am

Wow, Lots of people didn't vote for me. It's perfectly ok. I'm guessing you don't know me on any kind of real level, and that's ok too. I feel votes are the most serious donation anyone has to give to anyone's campaign. Your choices are yours to make.

If you read above, you will see I was trying to respond to someone else's comment and others helped to get the answer. It cuts down on misinformation. There was no intentional disrespect to the Curry family.

I guess it's perfectly fine for you to digress here to who you think I am though, right?


3 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Feb 24, 2020 at 6:26 am

Good morning, wow! Wrong about my husband, for one thing—born in the USA—a glaring mistake proving you don’t know me. It’s fine. I have nothing to hide, and that’s why I can use my name.


1 person likes this
Posted by Creepy!
a resident of Birdland
on Feb 24, 2020 at 3:37 pm

WOW - You are one creepy person!


Like this comment
Posted by wow
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2020 at 5:17 am

whats really creepy is knowing a child died and focusing on who paid out.
But you are who you are. The new people who moved here are POC. and that aint. the racist term people of color. LOL too bad freedom of expression bothers you so much.
trump 2020 and 2024. Trigger warning LOL


1 person likes this
Posted by Creepy!
a resident of Birdland
on Feb 25, 2020 at 10:54 am

WOW - I use the term Creepy because you appear to be stalking Kathleen....who else are you stalking? You won't get my name - you can crawl from under whatever rock you live under and stalk someone else.


Yes - I agree - even creeps get to have freedom of speech - so enjoy yourself!


Like this comment
Posted by Fund transfer
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2020 at 11:03 pm

Bill, basically when in press releases, districts says the payout comes from one of these joint liability or joint powers funds, that is really not the case of the origin of the funds. That is just the fund that is written on the check.

Usually the offending school district has to pay into the form the amount like the $ 8 million right before the payout.

So it really comes from the school district not some sort of magic nest egg.

Do you really think that the surrounding school districts would want to pay into some joint fund to do an $8 million payout? No, SRVUSD has to pay into the fund the settlement amount that then is transferred to the family.


6 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Feb 25, 2020 at 11:48 pm

Wow - you’re wrong here. I don’t agree with Kathleen on everything but she cares, she’s active in our community, and if nothing else, is deserving of respect for her dedication to community. We need to be able to have difficult conversations; and accountability over someone’s death is an important discussion.

Disagree with Kathleen, but don’t attack her family or dedication


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