A Connecticut federal court jury has awarded a 20-year-old New York woman $41.7 million after she claimed that a private school was negligent in preventing her from contracting insect-borne viral encephalitis during a school trip to China.
The Hotchkiss School, located in Lakeville in Connecticut’s Northwest Corner, was faulted for not warning the former student of the mountainous and forested landscape where she would be traveling, and for not having her protect herself from insect bites with repellant and with other measures, such as long-sleeved shirts and trousers instead of shorts.
Antonio Ponvert, of Bridgeport’s Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder represents the plaintiff, Cara Munn, and her parents, who were awarded $350,000 for her medical care to date, and an additional $100,000 to cover the medical-evacuation costs of flying her back to the U.S. from China in 2007. The jury, which deliberated for parts of two days, also awarded $9.8 million for lost earnings and future care, and an additonal $31.5 million for future pain, suffering and loss of life’s enjoyment, Ponvert said.
Encephalitis is an acute inflammatin of the brain. In this case, the condition has left the young woman unable to speak or write, and with very limited control of her limbs. "She’s had to undergo over 500 separate medical treatments with scores of specialists in rehabilitation therapy, and will need extensive care for the rest of her life," Ponvert said.
The well-known boarding school is represented by Penny Q. Seaman, of the New Haven office of Wiggin and Dana. Seaman had not responded to a phone call and email on Wednesday afternoon.
During the trial, before U.S.District Court Judge Stefan Underhill, the Bridgeport jury learned that the school trip was billed as travel in three urban centers. It was not billed as also traveling in the heavily-forested Mount Panshan region. The school provided a link to the Center for Disease Control for foreign travel health advisories, but the actual link was to South America, Ponvert said.
Ponvert called the disease that Munn contracted, tick-borne encephalitis "easily preventable." Other youngsters were also affected by insect bites, according to the complaint, but none as severely as Cara Munn.
Ponvert said he wasn’t completely clear how much of the verdict amount is covered by insurance. "This school is very well endowed, a very prestigious eastern boarding school, that bills itself as having a premier travel abroad program."