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The California State University has reportedly reached a $39.5 million settlement with a former student who suffered a brain injury from heat stroke during a fitness class at the San Bernardino campus. The settlement is believed to be the largest ever for an injury case involving the California State University system.
Marissa Freeman, now 24 then a junior studying nutrition and psychology, was running a 5-kilometer jog outdoors in 95-degree heat, during a kinesiology class in Sept. 2018, when she suffered a debilitating heatstroke that landed her in the hospital for months. She suffered severe brain damage, cardiac arrest, and multisystem organ failure, requiring more than a year of in-patient rehabilitation. She sued the school claiming pain and suffering. According to her lawyer, Freeman’s cognitive function, speech, and motor control remain severely impaired and she requires full-time care.
The lawsuit alleged that Freeman’s instructor and the university were negligent, failing to provide sufficient supervision and rest for students, to call for medical aid in a timely way, and to respond adequately with cooling measures after the heatstroke happened. It also alleged that the CSU was negligent in the hiring, retention, supervision and/or training of Freeman’s instructor. Cal State’s lawyers, on the other hand, contended that Freeman negligently overexerted herself in the class.
Art Freeman, Marissa’s father, reportedly said the settlement money will enable the family to seek out the best possible care specific to her injuries. “It means that we would be able to do the things for Marissa that are necessary that we could try to recover as much of her ability as we can,” he said.
In a statement, Cal State’s Executive Vice Chancellor Andrew Jones said: “The California State University is saddened by Ms. Freeman’s situation, and our hearts go out to her and her caring family. We are relieved to come to a resolution that will enable Ms. Freeman to receive the care she needs for the rest of her life.”
In addition to the monetary settlement, the university system agreed to implement a “policy for heat illness prevention, education, and protocols” for each of its 23 campuses.
The vast majority of the settlement will reportedly be covered by insurance. The costs of defense and a small portion of the settlement will be covered by a risk management pool that all CSU campuses pay into regularly.
Brain injuries are extremely serious and will always require immediate medical attention. Even a minor concussion can lead to permanent cognitive and behavioral issues. According to data quoted by Statista, there were 61,131 cases of traumatic brain injury-related deaths in the US in 2017.