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Jury Gives 'Record' Award in Wrongful Death of Capo Student

The parents of a disabled 3-year-old Aliso Viejo boy receive a $10-million negligence judgment after the child is strangled by his harness during a bus ride home from school.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA -- The lawyers for an Aliso Viejo couple whose 3-year-old disabled son died on a Capistrano Unified School District bus last year say a record-setting $10-million wrongful death verdict was reached Friday.

According to the law firm of Panish Shea & Boyle, an Orange County jury ordered the school district to pay the parents of Kevin Cisler, making it the county’s largest settlement for a child’s wrongful death.

“It’s a great affirmation of life,” said Kevin Boyle, one of the Cisler family’s attorneys.

“Despite overwhelming evidence available early in the case, the Capistrano [school district] refused to admit fault in Kevin’s death for 18 months,” Cisler attorneys said in a press release issued Friday. “Although Capistrano later admitted liability, it initially took the position that the value of Kevin’s life and the loss suffered by his parents should somehow be 'discounted' because of Kevin’s developmental disability.”

A lawyer for the district called an expert who estimated it would have cost the Cislers $3.7 million to raise Kevin because of his disability, said Boyle.

“They wanted the jury to take that into account, implying in some way that the Cislers were saved from the cost of raising their son,” said Boyle.

A spokesman for the district did not respond to calls for comment Friday evening.

Kevin suffered from Angelman Syndrome, a disorder characterized by developmental delay, lack of speech, seizures, and walking and balance disorders. He was attending a special education preschool in March 2011 when he died on his way home from school.

The boy was found slumped over in his wheelchair by the mother of another disabled youngster after she boarded the school bus to get her own child, according to sheriff's homicide Inspector Dan Salcedo.

The mother asked the driver to call 911 and then she and the driver began resuscitation efforts, Salcedo said. When paramedics arrived, the boy was taken to Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, where he was later pronounced dead.

Melissa and Daniel Cisler, the boy’s parents, filed a lawsuit accusing staffers of haphazardly strapping Kevin into his wheelchair, chest harness and belt directly behind the bus driver and out of his range of sight. As a result of the negligence, Kevin slid down in his chair until the chest harness was around his neck and obstructed his breathing, according to the suit. The weight of his body and the position of the chest harness caused Kevin to slowly suffocate to death, the lawsuit alleged.

“Despite his substantial disability, Kevin was a happy 3-year-old boy who brought joy to his parents’ lives,” the law firm added.

After the verdict, Cisler attorney Brian Panish said, “The slogan of the Angelman Syndrome Foundation is, 'We may not speak, but we have much to say.' And, with this verdict, it is clear that young Kevin Cisler had a lot to say. The family is overwhelmed and honored that the jury recognized how much love they had for their son. This is a great moment in the law – the jury was able to look beyond disability and recognize the damage that the loss of any young child does to a family.”

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