Decedent was a 10-year-old student at a Northern Virginia public school. During an after-school program, he was asked by a teacher to help operate a motorized partition that separated two rooms. To better hear the teacher on the other side of the sound-proof partition, the child placed his head close to the partition. When the partition was activated, it trapped his head with the motor continuing to exert force. The child died of massive head trauma.
The child was survived by his mother and father. They asserted claims of negligence against various employees of the school, as well as products liability claims (design defect and failure to warn) against several companies involved in the manufacture and distribution of the motorized partition (any claim against the installer of the partition would have been barred by the Statute of Repose).
A pre-suit mediation in 2019 with Justice Roush resulted in a partial settlement of $2,000,000 with the potential school defendants.
The potential products liability defendants re-engaged in pre-suit resolution discussions in early 2020. Their anticipated arguments in opposition to the plaintiffs’ claims were that the motorized partition was not unreasonably dangerous, that the injury was caused by the school employees’ failure to supervise, that they were protected by the statute of repose and that the potential jury valuation of the death of a 10-year-old child was uncertain.
The parties engaged in another round of mediation with Justice Roush in April 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the mediation was remote. The mediation concluded with the plaintiffs’ agreement to accept a total of $3,500,000 from the various defendants, bringing the total settlement for the child’s death to $5,500,000.
Of particular help in achieving both settlements was a multi-panel focus group arranged in 2019. The session allowed the plaintiffs’ team to test the claims against just the school defendants, just the product defendants and both sets of defendants together.
Counsel used the fruits of that focus group, along with interviews with liability experts, the parents, and other damages witnesses to produce a comprehensive pre-mediation video for the potential products liability defendants.[020-T-123]
Type of action: Products liability / wrongful death
Injuries alleged: Death
Name of Judge or Mediator: Justice (Ret.) Jane Marum Roush
Verdict or settlement: Settlement
Attorney(s) for plaintiff: Ben Glass and Brian Glass, Fairfax; Lee Livingston, Bryan Slaughter and Kyle McNew, Charlottesville