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$9 Million Settlement After 15-Year-Old Dies During Football Practice In Jurupa Valley

photo: Melissa McGovern/Unsplash

A $9 million wrongful death settlement has been reached in the death of 15-year-old Cristian Angel Navarro, a teenager who tragically passed away from exertional heat stroke as the result of “suicide drills” on sweltering afternoon in Riverside County's city of Jurupa Valley.

It was 104 degrees out on the afternoon of September 28, 2020, when the season's first practice got underway for Patriot High School's varsity football team. It was a day Navarro was excited about, according to his mother, Cynthia, proud to have made the team as a freshman and to have something to do following months of pandemic sheltering.

The team was run hard through sprints and suicides, a style of progressively more tortuous sprints that involve the runner touching successive points on the ground, which earn their name from the inevitable pain and exhaustion they cause.

According to the case complaint, the field lacked accessible shade and cold drinking water, while Cristian’s coaches "ordered him" to complete the drills and failed to provide the students' sufficient hydration. After practice ended, Cristian, exhibiting signs of "disorientation, imbalance, and cognitive problems," lay down and told his coaches he was tired, necessitating assistance to stand and unable to answer basic questions, including his name or address.

Sadly, his coaches did not recognize or attempt to counteract the effects of Navarro's heat stroke or observe basic health protocols such as checking for a pulse or calling for medical assistance. Neither did they try to cool him down, provide him water, or help the young man into the shade.

Instead his mother was called, wasting critical time as her eldest son was becoming unconscious and collapsed. Cynthia went to pick him up and found him by the coaches, looking confused.

"He wasn't the same kid as I had dropped off," she recalls in a video recounting the incident. "He was like, slowly fading away."

His dad recounts, "With my basic knowledge, I could tell he was in trouble. I know that it was not even like dehydration... I knew he was in danger." It was left to his mom to call 911 for an ambulance. Sadly, Cristian passed away at the hospital a few days later on October 1.

The coaches later claimed that COVID-19 protocols prevented them from providing water, a claim the Jurupa Unified School District denies. The Navarro family, distraught at the loss of Cristian in what appeared to be an entirely preventable tragedy, secured the efforts of Adamson Ahdoot LLP in claiming a wrongful death settlement.

The legal action was taken against the Jurupa Valley School District, head coach and school atheltic director Christopher Fowler, and a list of other school employees or agents involved in or said to share culpability in the incident, primarily coaches and instructors with the football team. The lawsuit claimed negligence leading to Navarro's wrongful, preventable death, citing, among many arguments, the extreme temperatures, extraordinary exertion involved in the trainings, and inability of the adults responsible to adequately recognize, have a plan or resources for, or take action to counter the effects, of the dehydration and extreme heat stroke that killed Navarro.

Cristian's mother and father, Cynthia and Mike, claimed prospective financial damage owing to the Cristian's passing, citing the loss of future financial support the young man would potentially offer the family, along with the medical costs of caring for, treating, and eventually burying her son, not to mention the tolls from the loss of his "love, companionship, comfort, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support, and training and guidance." A second action asserted claims for survival and wrongful death, citing a variety of monetary damages from medical expenses and the loss of Navarro's life to funeral expenses and the lawsuit itself.

The $9 million settlement obviously will not make up for the loss of Navarro's life in a death seen as preventable with the right response or emergency plan in place. Hopefully it will do something towards school and coach awareness as it comes to overworking the children they are given responsibility for, ultimately preventing another senseless tragedy like the one that befell Navarro and his family on the football field that day.

If you'd like to know more Navarro, we've provided a video posted to YouTube honoring his life and memory, and examining the young man's tragic death.

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