Czaplicki v. Gooding Joint School Dist. No. 231, 17140

Citation116 Idaho 326,775 P.2d 640
Decision Date24 May 1989
Docket NumberNo. 17140,17140
Parties, 54 Ed. Law Rep. 711 Russell CZAPLICKI and Rose Czaplicki, husband and wife, individually and as natural parents of Garrett Czaplicki, a deceased minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. GOODING JOINT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 231; Richard Conley, and individual, Gilbert E. Schmidt, individually and Gooding County Ambulance Service, and Does I through X, inclusive, persons or entities at present unknown, Defendants-Respondents.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho

Evans, Keane, Koontz, Boyd, Simko & Ripley, Boise, for plaintiffs-appellants. Rex Blackburn argued.

Nelson, Rosholt, Robertson, Tolman & Tucker, Twin Falls, for defendants-respondents. George R. Bevan argued.

HUNTLEY, Justice.

I. Incident

This case involves the tragic death of a six-year-old boy, Garrett Czaplicki, at school, because of an alleged needless delay in the provision of emergency medical care to him. The Czaplickis' appeal the district court's application of the "discretionary function" exception to various allegedly negligent acts of the defendants, particularly, the decision of school Principal Richard Conley to ignore the requests of Garrett's mother and school teacher for an ambulance and his having called off an ambulance that was being summoned, with no knowledge of Garrett's condition.

Garrett was enrolled in Gibbons Elementary School in Gooding, Idaho as a kindergarten student. On the day he died, Garrett stumbled and fell in the classroom. At approximately 2 p.m. on January 6, 1986, the kindergarten class lined up and walked across the playground to go to the school library in the main building. According to Becky Schoettger, Garrett's teacher, and school librarian Marie Klingler, Garrett appeared to be feeling fine and they did not notice anything unusual or abnormal about his behavior prior to and during his visit to the library. Sometime after 2:12 p.m Rose Czaplicki who was present as a teacher's aide and who had stayed in the classroom to prepare some materials, heard people running. She heard some girls chanting, "we beat the boys, we beat the boys." and then she heard someone fall in the classroom. Rose turned and saw it was Garrett who had fallen. Garrett rose to his knees and Rose went to him and asked "Where does it hurt?" Garrett began to gesture with his right arm and then collapsed in unconsciousness into Rose's arms. Rose placed her arms under Garrett's arms and brought him out to the porch of the kindergarten.

Rose shouted to Garrett's teacher, Mrs. Schoettger, to get an ambulance and that Garrett was unconscious. Mrs. Schoettger ran to the office and requested the principal's secretary, Susan Bolton, to call an ambulance, advising her that one of her students had fallen and was "out." Mrs. Bolton picked up the phone to place the call and had placed it to her ear when she was stopped by Richard Conley, the principal. In an oral statement given by Mr. Conley to Farmers Insurance Agent Ric Rabe, in March 1986, Mr. Conley explained, "... [You] need to realize that Becky told Susan our secretary to call the ambulance and I told her not to." According to Mr. Conley, after instructing Mrs. Bolton not to complete her call for an ambulance, he then walked out of the office to where Garrett was, a distance he estimated to be 200 to 240 feet.

Rose Czaplicki was still waiting out on the porch of the kindergarten holding Garrett, who was still unconscious when Mr. Conley walked across the playground. Rose yelled, "Would you get over here." Susan Bolton, who had walked to a classroom across the hall, facing out onto the playground, saw Mrs. Czaplicki holding up Garrett who was in a "partially seated" position. His head had rolled forward on his chest and he appeared unconscious. Mrs. Bolton had opened a window in the classroom and she recalls Mrs. Czaplicki yelling for Mr. Conley to "hurry--he [Garrett] was really hurt."

Rose Czaplicki testified that Mr. Conley put up his arm and gestured to her as if to say "Calm down, don't get excited." As he got closer, Mr. Conley told Rose to put Garrett down. She lowered Garrett's head and shoulders to the ground and Mr. Conley stood over Garrett looking at him. Rose said, "Look at the way he's breathing," and according to Rose, Mr. Conley just stood there.

Mr. Conley testified that he tapped Garrett a number of times and called out his name, to which there was no response. Mr. Conley observed that Garrett was breathing, he picked up Garrett and said, "Well, let's get him someplace where it is warm." Rose told Mr. Conley that she would gather their things from the kindergarten room and Mr. Conley turned and started to walk back toward the main building. According to Rose, Mr. Conley then walked back to the school office with Garrett at the same pace he had walked out to them. Mr. Conley took Garrett into the office and placed him in a supine position on a bench.

The sheriff's dispatcher log indicates that Susan Bolton finally called to request an ambulance at 2:20 p.m. Tragically, that call would come one to two minutes too late to save Garrett Czaplicki. The entry for the call reads as follows:

Susan Bolton of Gooding Grade School, 934-4941 send an ambulance a little boy fell and hit his head. He is unconscious.

Susan Bolton placed a second call to the sheriff's dispatcher at 2:21 p.m., advising that the child was located in the school office.

Marie Klingler, the school librarian and a trained Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), was summoned to the office. She repositioned Garrett's head, covered him with a blanket, and elevated his legs. She testified that she observed that Garrett was breathing shallowly, and that every few seconds he would take a gasp of air. Mrs. Bolton described Garrett's breathing as sounding like a "baby with some phlegm"--irregular and in gasps. Mrs. Klingler testified that Garrett never completely stopped breathing while she was present with him. Mr. Conley explained in his oral statement to the insurance agent in March 1986 that:

He [Garrett] was breathing, it was not normal respiration, but he was breathing when he was in the office laying down here, he was taking deep breaths, but sporadic. He was taking deep breaths, exhale, then there would be a pause before he would breathe again. And then he would [inhaling sound] [exhaling sound] take another.

At 2:27 p.m., Ambulance No. 52 radioed-in that it was at the grade school. Mr. Conley explained in his oral statement to the insurance agent that:

The last breath that I was aware that he [Garrett] took was as they [the EMTs] pulled up outside. When the ambulance was here he took another deep breath and that's the last deep breath that I remember him taking and I was beside him almost constantly since he was in the office, and I carried him inside.

EMT Gilbert Schmidt immediately performed an assessment of Garrett's condition and noted a complete absence of heartbeat and breathing in Garrett. The EMTs began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and Garrett was transported to Gooding County Memorial Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. after resuscitative efforts failed.

The autopsy performed on Garrett Czaplicki revealed significant amounts of gastric contents in his lungs. Dr. Jane Bennett-Munro, the physician who performed the autopsy; Dr. Douglas Smith, the emergency room physician who treated Garrett; and plaintiff's experts, Dr. Robert R. Geiger, a board certified physician in the field of emergency medicine, and Dr. Herbert D. Ruttenberg, a board certified pediatric cardiologist, all testified in deposition that Garrett's death was due to respiratory failure. All of these physicians testified that the provision of appropriate, timely care by trained EMT(s) would have in all probability saved Garrett's life.

In deposition Dr. Geiger, who was responsible for developing emergency medical treatment procedures for the state of Idaho, testified:

My opinion is that the child [Garrett] was a healthy child with no underlying problems, and he developed an airway problem. As a consequence to the airway problem, he was not getting enough oxygen to his blood, that the interval from the time the problem first started to the time treatment was initiated was too long, and that once treatment was initiated, it was not appropriate treatment, and had treatment been--appropriate treatment been given at the proper time, the child would be alive now.

Significantly, Dr. Geiger further testified that in his medical opinion and upon "looking at the facts, [had EMT assistance been provided] even a minute sooner most likely [it] would have saved [Garrett's] life."

Dr. Ruttenberg, who is on staff with the Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is on the faculty of the University of Utah medical school, testified in deposition that in his medical opinion Garrett was "definitely resuscitatable" during the interval between his fall and the actual arrival of the ambulance. Dr. Ruttenberg observed:

Apparently, as soon as he collapsed, his mother was there and called for help and there was someone else, a teacher, I think, who ran back to get some help apparently to get an ambulance or EMT or something.

That request wasn't put through to the proper authorities, you know, and as I understand it, it was estimated a ten minute interval between the time he fell and was unconscious, going into coma, or whatever, but certainly not conscious until the EMT people got there and gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

I think any time before that he could have been helped. We call that resuscitation. I mean help is just assisted with his breathing, yeah, but nothing was done.

He, apparently, was just left alone on his back--which is not the good position to put a patient in. You have to put him on their stomach so that there can be draining if they vomit. On your back, you're guaranteed to get it in your lungs.


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