Cisler v. Capistrano Unified School District


Cisler v. Capistrano Unified School District


$10 Million


Brian Panish, Tom Schultz


Wrongful Death, Government Liability


On December 7, 2012, Panish | Shea | Ravipudi LLP attorneys obtained a $10 million jury verdict in a wrongful death case involving three-year old Kevin Cisler who was strangled to death in 2011 while on a bus ride home from preschool.  The lawsuit was brought against the Capistrano Unified School District (“CUSD”) by Kevin’s parents, Melissa and Daniel Cisler, and was tried in the Orange County Superior Court.  The Cislers were represented at trial by Brian Panish and Tom Schultz.

As a baby, Kevin had been diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome which left him with limited mobility and speech.  Despite his special needs, Kevin was a joyful child who was beloved by his parents and extended family.  Kevin’s parents wanted to ensure Kevin the best life possible so he was enrolled in a special education preschool where he could receive therapy.  As part of the program, the CUSD was to provide Kevin with safe transportation to and from preschool in a school bus equipped for a child in a wheelchair, which Kevin was required to use.

Despite the CUSD ensuring Kevin’s parents that he would only be transported by experienced drivers, on March 25, 2011, CUSD employees failed to properly secure Kevin into his wheelchair.  They also positioned Kevin’s wheel chair directly behind the bus driver’s seat where he could not be seen.  Because the chest harness, lap belt and pummel needed to keep Kevin safely in his seat had not been properly secured, during an almost hour long bus ride, Kevin slid down in his chair until the chest harness was around his neck and obstructed his airway. The weight of his body and the position of the chest harness caused Kevin to slowly asphyxiate and, because he was positioned behind the driver, the driver failed to one notice that he was in distress.  Kevin’s condition was only discovered when a parent who had boarded the bus to retrieve her own child saw Kevin slumped over in his chair.

During discovery in the case, it was learned that the driver who transported Kevin the day he died had been working as a school bus driver for only three weeks, had no prior work experience that would qualify him to drive special needs children, and that in his three weeks as a bus driver, he had only transported two other individuals in wheelchairs, neither who required safety devices to help keep them in their wheelchair seats.

Despite overwhelming evidence available early in the case, the CUSD refused to admit fault in Kevin’s death for 18-months and did not apologize for their negligence.  After admitting that it’s negligence caused Kevin’s death, the CUSD took the position prior to trial that the value of Kevin’s life and the loss suffered by his parents should somehow be “discounted” because of Kevin’s developmental disability.  The jury’s eight-figure verdict makes clear that they under the profound loss Kevin’s suffered as a result of his death.

Cisler v. Capistrano Unified School District Case Articles