BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) – A federal jury in Bridgeport has awarded almost $42 million to a young girl who suffered brain damage as a result of a disease she picked up on a school trip.
Cara Munn was a freshman at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn. when she partook in a school-supervised trip to China.
Munn, then 15, and the other students were taken to a mountainous region known to be at high risk for tick-bourne illnesses.
Her attorney, Antonio Ponvert, said 10 days after the trip, Cara was hospitalized and diagnosed with tick-borne encephalitis.
The brain damage from the disease, which she contracted five years ago, eventually robbed Cara of the ability to speak, her attorney said.
“She’s literally trapped in a cage where she cannot communicate with anyone and as a result of that, is very lonely,” Ponvert told WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau.
Munn sued the prestigious boarding school for failing to take precautions and failing to notify her parents promptly of the extent of her illness.
Attorneys for the school argued that tick-borne encephalitis is such a rare disease that it could not have foreseen a risk and could not be expected to warn Munn or require her to use protection against it.
Hotchkiss officials said they remain very saddened by Munn’s illness and hope for improvements to her health.
“We care deeply about all our students,” the school said in a statement. “We make every effort to protect them, whether they are here or participating in a school-sponsored activity off-campus. We put great care and thought into planning and administering off-campus programs, and we extend the same care to students on these trips as to students on campus.”
Historically, Hotchkiss students have undertaken study, service projects and travel in the United States and throughout the world and derived great benefit from the opportunities, the school said.
According to Ponvert, the girl who had such promise is now living a life dramatically altered from the path it should have taken.
It took the jury just eight hours to return its verdict and award Munn $41.75 million.
Ponvert said though Munn’s outlook is bleak, because of the jury’s award she will now be able to get all the help and therapy available to her.
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