School District Sued in Asthma Death

Estate of Laporshia Massey says city, district, teachers were negligent.

Philadelphia School District Building

The estate of the sixth-grade girl who died after suffering an asthma attack last fall at a Philadelphia school has brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district, the city, and the school, saying their policy decisions and in-the-moment negligence were responsible for her death.

Laporshia Massey died in September 2013, in the midst of a budget showdown between the state and the school district — no school nurse was on hand when her attack began during the day at Bryant Elementary School. Her family quickly suggested the death was due to a lack of a nurse at the school (an investigation said the father may have also played a role), and within weeks Gov. Tom Corbett signed over money due to the district. Corbett is not named in the suit. (See the full lawsuit below.)

Instead, the suit says, Massey fell ill and quickly found her problems compounded by the actions — or lack thereof – of people on the scene:

• No nurse was on duty the day Massey began to have an asthma attack.

• But the school was abiding by a policy that didn’t allow students to possess or use medication except under the direction of a school nurse.

• Rather than administer medication, an unidentified teacher reportedly told Massey to “be calm.”

• Massey was kept at the school, instead of taken directly to a hospital, despite telling school officials she could not breathe.

• Upon arriving home, Massey was rushed to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — but suffered respiratory arrest during the trip. She died.

The six-count lawsuit — filed by Philadelphia attorney Michael Pomerantz on behalf of estate executors Pauline Hodges and Mark W. Richardson — says the school district violated Massey’s rights by failing to secure care once her asthma attack started, and by failing to have trained personnel on hand to assist her.

The suit asks for more than $150,000 in damages that include her medical bills, pain and suffering, and the loss of Massey’s future earnings.

A spokesperson for the school district said the district does not comment on ongoing legal matters.