After years of court proceedings, the Montgomery County public school system was found not responsible for the 2015 death of a 14-year-old Gaithersburg High School student, who died after an asthma attack in physical education class.
On Friday, a month shy of the fourth anniversary of Taylor Walton’s death, Montgomery County Judge Nelson Rupp ruled that neither the local school board nor its employees was negligent in caring for her or was responsible for her death.
“It’s an absolute tragedy what happened. … It just breaks your heart,” Rupp said during a court hearing Friday. “… The bottom line is, giving the plaintiff the benefit of all of the evidence that’s been submitted, even in the light most favorable, there’s no evidence that would permit a jury to conclude there was a standard of care … that was breached that caused (Taylor’s) death.”
The case was expected to go to trial this month. Georgia Grant-Walton, Taylor’s mother, was seeking more than $20 million in damages.
On Nov. 30, 2015, Taylor was in P.E. class, participating in “station” exercises, in which students participated in various exercises like walking, running and doing push-ups or sit-ups.
A video, submitted to court records and described by Rupp on Friday, showed Taylor participating, occasionally raising her arms above her head or leaning on a friend. Eventually, Taylor left the class. Shortly after, she was found lying unconscious in the hallway outside the gym.
Gaithersburg High School’s staff administered CPR and first aid and called for an ambulance, according to court documents. Taylor was pronounced dead upon arrival at a hospital about 4 miles away.
It was Taylor’s first semester back in public school, according to Rupp. She had been home schooled by her mother following her father’s death six years prior.
In 2017, Grant-Walton filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court alleging the P.E. teachers, Karen Philbin and Jeffrey Rabberman, denied Taylor’s requests to get her inhaler from her gym locker before she collapsed.
In her lawsuit, Grant-Walton said MCPS’ staff failed to provide “reasonable care” to protect her daughter from harm and teachers “falsely imprisoned” Taylor by denying her access to her inhaler. Additionally, she alleges the Board of Education failed to properly train the staff about how to identify and treat asthma-related medical issues.
The lawsuit states that Gaithersburg High School employees were notified of Taylor’s asthma when the teen enrolled in August 2015. Taylor used her inhaler to control an October 2015 asthma attack that happened in gym class, but did not require emergency intervention, according to court records.
School records show Grant-Walton had identified Taylor as having asthma when she enrolled in MCPS, but didn’t flag the condition as serious or possibly requiring intervention during the school day. There was no emergency medical plan in place for Taylor, which her mother’s lawyer, Jay Dorsey, argued was due to inadequate planning by MCPS.
Attorneys for the school board argued that Philbin and Rabberman did not deny Taylor access to her inhaler and that they acted in line with established “standards of care,” requiring them to do their best to ensure students’ safety.
“They immediately ran over to Taylor in the hallway, they immediately called 911, 911 was there promptly,” school board attorney Paul Leonard said. “The whole allegation of her being denied her inhaler is a complete myth. It’s an unfortunate situation that’s given rise to total conjecture.”
In the end, Rupp sided with attorneys for the school board and closed the case.
He said there was no evidence that showed Philbin or Rabberman acted with a “reckless disregard of life.” Both teachers had received training in first aid, responding to health emergencies, signs and symptoms of an asthma attack and in recognizing students in distress, according to school records submitted to the court.
Dorsey was not available for comment following Friday’s hearing.
In a statement, an MCPS spokesman said the school district is grateful for the judge’s decision about the case.
“This is a tragic incident and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Walton family,” the statement said. “… Our schools and their staff remain committed to ensuring the safety and wellness of our students.”
Both Rabberman and Philbin remain employed with MCPS, according to the district’s online staff directory. Philbin remains at Gaithersburg High, while Rabberman is the athletic director at Quince Orchard High School.