As far as school art projects go, this one seemed like it was going to be fun and simple. Maybe a little bit messy but, again, fun.
The kids were given paper, a mixture of paint and dishwashing soap and straws. Their assignment? Just drip a bit of the paint mixture onto the paper and then blow into the straw to swirl it around to create all kinds of patterns.
It’s a technique that encourages exploration, investigation and a little bit of scientific thought. Millions of schoolchildren have brought their straw paintings home for their parents to see.
But this time things went horribly wrong.
It was at a preschool, and the child, a 3-year-old girl, did exactly what she wasn’t supposed to do: rather than blow gently through the straw, she inhaled.
Under ordinary circumstances, the problem wouldn’t have amounted to much. In this instance, however, the dish soap was a commercial detergent that contained caustic chemicals.
The girl spent a week in the intensive care unit and was sent home. Doctors, however, readmitted her when she complained about stomach aches. They discovered a tear in her esophagus as well as lung damage. Also, an abscess next to her heart had formed. This time she spent eight weeks in the ICU before returning home again.
Naturally, the school’s administrators and teachers were devastated. The child’s welfare had been placed in their trust. But rather than send home a budding artist, a child was left clinging to life.
The school took action in hopes of easing the parents’ plight. Some things it did right, others not so much.
For instance, it began to cover their lost wages. Both parents were taking unpaid time away from work to be with their daughter. The school also said it would extend free tuition for the child for a year. Neither action was advisable.
As in much of life, there are a few insurance lessons in this case for school administrators and owners, a few do’s and don’ts. To wit:
In the end, there’s no doubt that a preschool, or any school, owes what the legal profession refers to a “duty of care” to its students. That’s why it’s so important to carefully think through student activities and assess the possibility for injury. But there’s no reason to leave yourself defenseless when accidents happen.
The girl’s prognosis, not incidentally, looks good. As of this writing, a feeding tube is soon to be removed and she’s on the road to what looks like a full recovery.
Joaquin Escobar, an Insurance Advisor at CCIG, handles the risk management and insurance needs of commercial childcare and school accounts. Reach him at 720-212-2054 or JoaquinE@thinkccig.com.
CCIG is a Denver-area insurance brokerage with the full-service capabilities of a national brokerage. We do more than make sure you have the right policy. We also help you manage your long-term cost of risk with our risk and claims management expertise and a commitment to service excellence.
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