A Connecticut jury awarded a one-time boarding school student $41.7 million in damages on Wednesday after the student contracted a serious tick-borne illness during a school trip to China.
Cara Munn, now 20, went on a school-sponsored trip to China when she was a ninth grader at The Hotchkiss School – a prestigious boarding school in Lakeville, Conn. During her trip, Munn said she suffered from multiple insect bites while walking through a densely wooded area known to be a high-risk place for insects carrying tick-borne encephalitis. The school, according to Munn, did not ensure or advise students about precautions to avoid contracting a serious disease, thus she decided to file a lawsuit.
Munn still suffers from brain damage and cannot speak because of the encephalitis.
"Hotchkiss failed to take basic safety precautions to protect the minor children in its care," Munn's attorney Antonio Ponvert III said. "I hope that this case will help alert all schools who sponsor overseas trips for minors that they need to check the CDC for disease risks in the areas where they will be travelling, and that they must advise children in their care to use repellant and wear proper clothing when necessary. Cara's injuries were easily preventable."
The school, however, plans to appeal the jury’s decision, arguing that tick-borne encephalitis is so rare they could not have reasonably prevented Munn from contracting the disease.
Hotchkiss officials have expressed they regret Munn’s injuries and hope her condition will improve.
"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."
The school regularly sends students on service learning projects across the United States and around the world, which are said to be an enriching part of the students’ educational experience.