A jury in a Connecticut federal court awarded a $41.7 million verdict to a woman who, as a student at a Connecticut school, contracted an illness on a school trip to China that left her permanently disabled. Munn, et al v. Hotchkiss School, No. 09-cv-00919 (D. Conn., complaint filed Jun. 11, 2009). The lawsuit alleged that the school negligently failed to protect students from tick bites, the cause of the plaintiff’s illness. The school claimed that it took all reasonable and necessary precautions, and announced that it intends to appeal the verdict.
The plaintiff was a fifteen-year old student at The Hotchkiss School, a boarding school located in Lakeville, Connecticut, when she went on a six-week school trip to China during the summer of 2007. She suffered a tick bite, likely while on a hike in the vicinity of the city of Tianjin. According to court documents, she fell ill about four weeks into the trip, and was diagnosed with tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). Other students were reportedly also infected, but none suffered damages as severe as hers.
“Encephalitis” describes an inflammation of the brain commonly caused by infection. Multiple viral infections can cause encephalitis, including viruses commonly carried by ticks or mosquitoes. Early symptoms can range from a mild fever or headache to seizures and loss of consciousness. Swelling in the brain can damage nerve cells and cause internal bleeding in the brain, possibly resulting in permanent brain damage or death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issue updates and warnings regarding TBE and other illnesses. According to the CDC, TBE is endemic to Eurasia’s temperate areas, which includes Tianjin, and is most common between April and November.