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California State University to Pay $40m to Family of Student Who Suffered Sever Heatstroke Injuries

— February 24, 2021

A lawsuit filed against Cal Tech alleges that athletic trainers and faculty failed to respond to Marissa Freeman’s life-threatening injuries.

California State University will pay nearly $40 million to the family of a student who experienced heatstroke during a jogging exercise and now requires constant medical care.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the settlement may be the largest ever paid out by the university system for a medical claim.

Alongside awarding the family of Marissa Freeman approximately $39.5 million, California State also agreed to implement several policies intended to prevent and treat heat-related injuries. These policies, when created and effected, will cover the half-million students attending any of the system’s 23 separate campuses.

Freeman, says The Los Angeles Times, was a junior studying psychology and nutrition at California State’s San Bernardino campus.

In September 2018, Freeman took an elective jogging class. While participating in a 5K run, she collapsed from heatstroke. Freeman was later diagnosed with a litany of other injuries and disorders, including severe brain damage, cardiac arrest and organ failure.

Freeman spent more than a year receiving intensive in-patient rehabilitative care.

A building at California State University’s San Bernardino campus. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Amerique. (CCA-BY-3.0).

While Freeman survived and was eventually permitted to leave the hospital, her life has never gone back to normal: her injuries culminated in irreversible cognitive impairment. She is now confined to a wheelchair, cannot properly speak, and needs around-the-clock medical care.

The family’s lawsuit against the university system suggests that the extent of Freeman’s injuries could have been limited if California State faculty had taken swift action, and a recent press released issued by their attorneys reiterates the same claim.

After Freeman collapsed on hot concrete, an athletic trainer and other personnel did immediately attend to her—however, they did not attempt to induce any “rapid whole body cooling,” nor did they move her to an air-conditioned space that was scarcely 20 feet away. Instead, they let Freeman languish on the ground until paramedics arrived to take her away.

“Evidence established that neither the instructor nor the other CSUSB employees had received required Cal-OSHA training in heat illness prevention and treatment before the incident,” the release said.

Andrew Jones, Cal State’s general counsel and executive vice chancellor, said that, while the university is pleased to have reached a settlement, its administration is nonetheless saddened by Freeman’s condition.

“We are relieved to come to a resolution that will enable Ms. Freeman to receive the care she needs for the rest of her life,” Jones said. “The university will continue to take steps to heighten the awareness of our faculty, staff and students to the potential for heat-related injuries and how to mitigate against them.”

Jones said that the majority of the settlement will be paid by Cal State’s insurers.

Brian Panish, an attorney for the Freeman family, told the East Bay News that he is pleased the university system was willing to implement policies to protect other students from heat-related injuries.

However, Panish did stress that Freeman—who has made small steps towards recovery—will never regain the entirety of what she lost.

“She can communicate, but not greatly, and she has other physical ailments that prevent her from moving about freely,” Panis said, adding that Freeman can now use a wheelchair “She’s made marked strides … but her condition is not going to be anything close to what it was before.”


Cal State student who suffered heatstroke during class run wins $39.5 million settlement

Cal State to pay $39.5 million to student who suffered heatstroke during jogging exercise

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