$8 Million Settlement Reached In High School Drowning Lawsuit

February 11, 2020 16:57 pm · 23 comments

The family of a 15-year old San Ramon Valley High School freshman who drowned in the school’s swimming pool in Danville in May 2018 has agreed to an $8 million settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district, shortly before the case was supposed to go to trial.

The San Ramon Valley Unified School District has agreed to pay the settlement to Thomas and Karen Curry, who had sued the district and physical education teacher Aaron Becker in November 2018, six months after their son
Benjamin drowned in the high school pool during a physical education class.

The settlement, reached Jan. 30, comes ahead of the scheduled trial in Contra Costa County Superior Court, which was set to begin Feb. 18.

“They’re relieved the litigation is over, but the pain from their loss will never go away,” said Andrew Schwartz, the Curry family’s attorney.

“Litigation is always tough; when it involves the loss of a child, it is that much worse.”

Mark Davis, the school district’s attorney in this case, said he couldn’t go into detail about the settlement, as it had not been finalized as of Tuesday morning. But he said the district had been trying to reach an agreement with the family since before the lawsuit was filed.

“We’ve come to what I believe is an amicable settlement,” Davis said.

Benjamin Curry drowned on May 8, 2018, during a PE class led by Becker at the high school’s pool. According to the lawsuit, Becker told Curry and the other students to tread water for three minutes, and Becker extended that by 30 seconds.

Benjamin went under the water after the initial three minutes, the suit said. He was found by members of the following swimming class, and was pronounced dead a short time later at a nearby hospital.

The school district later made a public apology to the community, in which Superintendent Rick Schmitt also addressed false speculation that the drowning may have been a suicide. The Contra Costa County coroner’s office ruled the death as accidental.

Davis said the high school suspended using the swimming pool for classes shortly after the drowning, and that those classes have not yet been reinstated, pending a review of rules and procedures related to the safety of
students.

Becker remains at the high school, as a physical education teacher and as the school’s head varsity football coach, Davis said. Becker currently faces no further legal sanctions, Davis added.

John P February 11, 2020 at 6:11 PM

Becker was solely responsible for this death and should have borne the cost of the lawsuit alone. I had coaches like this in my high school days, and his behavior typifies the bullying, overbearing, dictatorial approach they all took. No pain, no gain? Take one for the team? What are you, a wuss? Those were the bogus lines such creeps used to intimidate students into an extra push, but his biggest failure was not watching all his charges to ensure everyone made it out of the pool alive.

Max February 11, 2020 at 7:03 PM

I agree with your comments–but why is Becker still there? It was his responsibility to make sure all students were out of the pool. Just an unbelievable tragedy that should not have happened. A student died on his watch. Pitiful beyond belief. 8 million-.not enough, after lawyers fees. Very sad.

S February 11, 2020 at 7:24 PM

max, my guess he is still there because there were no criminal charges and firing him would admit district culpability. Kinda like when Mt Diablo District stood behind a convicted child molester, so district would not admit responsibility. It’s all about the $$$.

Cyn February 11, 2020 at 8:09 PM

John, yes the teacher failed miserably not watching his charges, but the rest of your comments sounds like your own personal issues with high school that you haven’t quite gotten over yet. Unless you know this coach personally, you shouldn’t say he’s bullying, overbearing, and dictatorial.

JAFO February 11, 2020 at 7:03 PM

@John P: Your conclusion regarding the tragic absence of an accurate headcount is very likely correct. However, respectfully, the remainder of your comments about this coach’s behavior and character are pure conjecture.

MEV February 11, 2020 at 7:15 PM

I read elsewhere the coach was looking at his cellphone instead of watching the class tread water. I remember the day this happened and just couldn’t figure out how it happened.

Another Mom February 11, 2020 at 7:16 PM

I’m pretty sure getting every child out of the pool safely was his JOB. yet, he still has one? No. He failed. He failed so many people in this. I’m appalled that he is still employed by a school, that children must listen and respect this man, and that he is applauded for being a coach. Truly disgraceful.

Ilovepopcorn February 11, 2020 at 7:17 PM

Very sad and maybe unavoidable if the dumb coach was paying attention.

Ricardoh February 11, 2020 at 7:19 PM

Eight million won’t replace the boy neither would twenty million. If the family can afford it they should do good with the money.

Did I Say That Out Loud February 11, 2020 at 8:32 PM

“We’ve come to what I believe is an amicable settlement,” Davis said.
Really? This is a disgusting and heartless statement. Amicable settlement. A child DROWNED under the eye of the very authority that is supposed to make sure he was safe.There are more than a million total wordsin the English language, about 170,000 words in current use, and 20,000-30,000 words used by each individual person. – and Mr. Attorney uses “amicable settlement”. Pathetic.

DVC Student February 11, 2020 at 9:03 PM

The boy was not found until the next swim class arrived?

That is egregious!

That means there was an empty pool at some point & no adult noticed to look in it to clear students or no adult was present.

Sign from Above February 12, 2020 at 8:21 AM

THIS is the amazing part of the story! No one (teachers or students) noticed him at the bottom of the pool? I’m not blaming the students, it’s just surprising. The responsibility is solely on the coach. He should not have a job. If he was a coach in my school, I would be demanding he be removed. He clearly can not handle the primary job of a teacher; to keep his students safe!

Gittyup February 11, 2020 at 9:40 PM

You realize the taxpayers will be the ones paying the 8 million dollars, don’t you? At 8 million dollars, San Ramon Unified School District will be floating some general obligations bonds allowed at 4 percent of assessed property value … if Prop 13 passes, that is.

lovelace February 12, 2020 at 7:04 AM

Insurance will probably cover this not the district..
Still sucks that a young person lost their life due the coaches negligence.
I believe the coach should have been fired immediately, his responsibility is the safety of all his students.

The Wizard February 13, 2020 at 7:36 AM

Insurance probably will cover some if not all of it. But you can count on their rates will go up substantially. And that’s when the tax payer comes into play.

ConcordNative February 12, 2020 at 12:01 AM

I wouldn’t want my child in his P.E. class. He obviously doesn’t pay close attention. I’m surprised he stays there knowing it was his fault the student drowned. He will frowned upon by many I suspect.

Sad February 12, 2020 at 6:35 AM

Very sad situation. Does anyone know what percentage of the $8 Million the attorneys receive in this settlement?

Kirkwood February 12, 2020 at 11:07 AM

Likely about 40% + material expenses, paper, etc.

Hang up and drive February 12, 2020 at 9:20 AM

Probably between 33 and 40 Percent.

wcmom February 12, 2020 at 10:48 AM

Somebody should’ve had the cajones to cut this guy loose. Disgusting he’s still there.

anon February 12, 2020 at 11:54 AM

Lets not forget — the teachers lifeguard certificate had expired– the jury may have given more..the district does not know/care what it is doing & NO ONE LOSES THEIR JOB

The Fearless Spectator February 12, 2020 at 5:34 PM

The coach should resign out of respect for the deceased and family.

Anonymous February 18, 2020 at 10:54 AM

That PE teacher is a disgrace and should be banned from ever teaching again. He has one primary job and that is to make sure the number of kids that enter the pool is the same as the number of kids that exit the pool. And no one noticed there was a kid at the bottom of the pool? The level of negligence is astounding.

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