Curry lawsuit: Family of teen who drowned during PE class settles suit with SRVUSD for $8 million | News | DanvilleSanRamon.com |

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Curry lawsuit: Family of teen who drowned during PE class settles suit with SRVUSD for $8 million

Attorney says family relieved litigation is over, pain of lost child will never end

Nearly two years after the on-campus drowning death of San Ramon Valley High School freshman Ben Curry, the family of the teenager is set to receive $8 million from the San Ramon Valley Unified School District after an agreement was reached to settle the Currys' pending lawsuit.

The agreement, which came to light after a notice of settlement was filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court on Monday, also calls for the wrongful-death case to be dismissed with the district admitting no liability for Curry's death.

Curry drowned during his physical education class -- which consisted of one teacher monitoring 57 students -- in the Danville school's pool on May 8, 2018, after slipping under the water unnoticed and becoming unresponsive.

Curry would not be found submerged in the pool until the start of the next class, after the school's lunch period. The 15-year-old boy was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital that afternoon.

"They are relieved that the litigation is over and the pain of their loss will never end," Curry family attorney Andrew Schwartz, of Walnut Creek-based firm Casper, Meadows, Schwartz & Cook, told the Weekly on Monday.

Schwartz added that Aaron Becker, the PE teacher in charge of Curry's class, had previously filed a motion seeking to dismiss punitive damage claims against himself, which was granted by Judge Steven K. Austin on Jan. 30.

The settlement, which resolves the entire lawsuit, was reached days before the case was set to head to trial on Feb. 18.

"Everyone recognizes that this was a tragic accident. The district has expressed its sincere condolences to the parents for their loss and the district has been trying to resolve this matter informally even before a lawsuit was filed," said Mark Davis, an attorney representing the SRVUSD. "At least from our standpoint we are glad that the parties could reach an amicable settlement (before the) emotional distress and expense associated with trial."

Davis added that the settlement will be paid using funds from the SRVUSD and a joint powers authority insurance pool that SRVUSD is a part of with other school districts.

No other details about the settlement have been released thus far. The full terms have not been filed in court to date.

Becker's attorney had not responded to a request for comment as of press time Wednesday.

Ben's parents, Karen and Thomas Curry, filed a lawsuit with the Contra Costa County Superior Court in November 2018, claiming negligence and willful misconduct by SRVUSD and Becker -- who remains employed as a teacher and varsity football head coach -- led directly to the boy's death.

"Plaintiffs believe that the SRVUSD and its employees owed a duty of care to Benjamin Curry to supervise, protect, assist and control the safety of Benjamin, and they failed to do so," Schwartz wrote in the original lawsuit.

In his ruling to dismiss punitive damages against Becker, Judge Austin wrote on Jan. 30 that he found Becker did not act with an evil motive, as would need to be proven for punitive damages.

"What demonstrates a defendant's required evil motive is not just that he mistakenly causes injury, but that he mistakenly causes injury repeatedly and does not care. That is not what occurred here," Austin wrote in granting Becker's dismissal motion.

"There may be cases of nondeliberate injury in which the knowledge of injury is so established, the degree so severe, and its likelihood so certain that punitive damages would be proper without repeated instances of prior injury, but this is not one of them," the judge said, adding:

"To permit punitive damages on the evidence here would blur the line between the more typical case of mere negligence and the much rarer case of conscious disregard and despicable conduct, where punitive damages are permitted."

After their investigation in spring 2018, Danville police recommended no criminal charges be filed against Becker or anyone else, stating that detectives found no signs of foul play or criminal neglect -- confirming findings from the county coroner's autopsy report that the death was accidental and not self-inflicted as some initial reports falsely suggested.

"Although the decedent suffered from depression, there is no indication the decedent intended to drown himself," according to the coroner's report, signed May 31, 2018. "Based on the investigation there is no evidence of foul play, and no indication that the decedent intended to harm himself."

SRVUSD Superintendent Rick Schmitt publicly apologized to the Curry family for the freshman's death on campus in a statement released on Nov. 2, 2018.

"This event was and will remain a tragedy in our hearts and minds forever. The District sincerely apologizes to the Curry family and all community members," Schmitt said. "There are no words to describe the collective sorrow following the loss of Ben."

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Comments

134 people like this
Posted by Grandparent
a resident of Danville
on Feb 10, 2020 at 7:19 pm

So sad for the Curry family. I have only one comment. Is this finally enough to terminate Rick Schmitt and Aaron Becker?
What a sad community we have become to allow these 2 individuals to have anything to do with out kids.


4 people like this
Posted by Parent in the Know
a resident of Danville
on Feb 10, 2020 at 8:43 pm

Perhaps grandparents with no knowledge of the facts should not be commenting on the story. The Currys settled this case because they want the litigation to be over. Maybe you should respect that and just stop.


23 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 10, 2020 at 8:45 pm

No amount of money will bring your child back.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mike Agustin
a resident of Danville
on Feb 10, 2020 at 10:48 pm

This may not have helped in this case but pool “fire alarms” should be installed at every public/HOA pool. Just pull an alarm to activate a response from a SRVFD ambulance. Cell phones die, get wet or over heat at pools, a pull alarm would automatically call paramedics to the pool in an emergency.


94 people like this
Posted by EdAdmin
a resident of Danville
on Feb 10, 2020 at 11:28 pm

Curry family, I think of Ben often and I hope you feel the support of the community.

Every board member should step down. This has been handled horribly from the start... beginning with the Cal High teacher that warned them 6 months prior to this happening.


75 people like this
Posted by mrszalewski2
a resident of Danville
on Feb 11, 2020 at 6:47 am

This is one of the worst preventable tragedies in the school’s history. May Ben Rest In Peace and his story not be forgotten.


82 people like this
Posted by Justice for Ben
a resident of Danville
on Feb 11, 2020 at 8:11 am

I am glad they are getting something, even though nothing will bring Ben Back, but the fact that Aaron Becker still working at our school is awful. This guys is responsible for Ben's death. And he is still acting like nothing happened. I hope some day we get a complete justice and Becker and the superintendent finally have some dignity and step down.


28 people like this
Posted by Pwolfsohn
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 11, 2020 at 8:26 am

Now that the litigation is over I’m wondering if the details of what happened so that this poor boy drowned, can be made public. How does a child who is in a class simply manage to slip to the bottom of the pool and be unnoticed by other students or teachers. What kind of a policy or procedure was not implemented in order for this horrible tragedy to happen. I am very curious about those details.


1 person likes this
Posted by Limo
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2020 at 8:57 am

Heard Aaron Becker is leading the Teachers strike for more pay!( portion removed)


21 people like this
Posted by Justice for Ben
a resident of Danville
on Feb 11, 2020 at 9:15 am

Limo, no sure how the money Ben's parents is getting, (which is being paid by the insurance), has anything to do with the teacher's raise. In that case, we should talk about the superintendent's salary, which is over $450.000. A superintendent that is also responsible for Ben's death. Since he knew what had happened the prior year at CalHigh where a student almost died during PE class. And still he ignored the issue. Also, when they asked him about the apology that was sent to Ben's family. He just responded that he didn't know anything about it, because he didn't write it, even though he signed it.


60 people like this
Posted by NotHappy
a resident of Danville
on Feb 11, 2020 at 11:23 am

$8 mill will never bring back Ben BUT justice can be had by dismissing Becker.


80 people like this
Posted by Lauren M.
a resident of Danville
on Feb 11, 2020 at 3:29 pm

I don’t see how the police can do a “thorough” investigation, have Becker tell them he walked the perimeter of the pool and did a headcount (when he obviously didn’t and it’s on camera that he didn’t.), note that Ben’s shoes/towel/phone were the ONLY things left on the front of the bleachers, and not conclude that there was criminal negligence. Or how the Judge couldn’t conclude that punitive damages should come into play.

So let’s all pretend Becker did in fact walk the pool’s entire perimeter before exiting to go get lunch while Ben drowned and died, he had to have seen his shoes/towel/phone and then what? Decided to ignore them? You counted heads before going into the locker room and there was a person missing from your class? You decided to ignore that too? That’s beyond despicable to me.

And now let’s say what actually happened. Which is that Becker did not walk the entire perimeter of the pool let alone look around the perimeter to see Ben’s belongings on the bleachers, did not do a headcount, was on his phone during the tread drill, and left for a long lunch while Ben drowned and died...
Please tell me which part of Becker’s truth or the actual truth isn’t despicable to you.

RIP Ben Curry. You deserve better and all our kids deserve better.


59 people like this
Posted by NotHappy
a resident of Danville
on Feb 11, 2020 at 4:39 pm

It is clear the superintendent has simply put head in the sand and hope this will all go away. I don't think it will nor should it. I would not be surprised if there is a groundswell for Becker's dismissal along with the superintendent.


10 people like this
Posted by Sarah
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 12, 2020 at 7:32 am

Sorry for the Curry's loss.

In my opinion - teachers and administrators should be held financially liable as well, along with losing their work/job.

We should now get rid of any sports from our school - football, swimming, skiing and everything else that provides any means of liability to the tax payer and potential injury to children. All unnecessary and expensive to maintain.



105 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Danville
on Feb 12, 2020 at 9:39 am

The SRVUSD has now settled this case. Their conditions, we pay the Curry family 8 Million dollars of taxpayer money and the wrongful death suit be dismissed with the district admitting no liability for Curry's death. Aaron Becker the teacher who was supervising the swim class is not responsible or accountable for the safety of students while under his supervision. The message to all parents and students, SRVUSD and their employees are not to be held liable, accountable or responsible for the safety of students while under the supervision of SRVUSD employees. What a sad day for the community we live in.


5 people like this
Posted by Carol
a resident of Danville
on Feb 12, 2020 at 9:49 am

Maybe people who really know nothing about the incident or the people involved or the history of the school programs should keep their hatful comments to themselves.


47 people like this
Posted by Pwolfsohn
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 12, 2020 at 4:56 pm

I do not believe that the teacher did the things that he said he did. Walking around the pool to be sure everything was safe being sure none of his belongings were left on the area around none of those things were done and as a result Ben died. I believe the teacher should be fired. He’s a liar and he’s at least partly responsible for this boys death, in my opinion. !!


51 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Danville
on Feb 12, 2020 at 5:46 pm

@parent in the know, what do you possibly know because I know the real story. How dare you!!! You are clueless.


83 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Danville
on Feb 12, 2020 at 5:50 pm

@carol, there are no hateful comments carol. The damage is done and people are hurting deeply. This case was absolutely horrendous in how it was handled.


88 people like this
Posted by Ted
a resident of Danville
on Feb 13, 2020 at 8:35 am

Mr Keith Rogenski, Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources, at SRVUSD has a history of coverups. I know that he came to Aaron Becker defense within days of the drowning. Which is a repeat of another lawsuit which resulted in a settlement of 8 million dollars and a teacher found guilty of child abuse. The teacher's union did not even get involved in protecting Aaron Becker it is the administration of SRVUSD. SRVUSD administration is in denial of all the damming evidence that Aaron Becker failed in his duty to insure the safety of our children.

A petition was created by a parent that is worried that their concerns will not be addressed by Rogenski with a history of ignoring the evidence of child abuse in regard to their own concerns about abuse of special need children in the district. Web Link

Rogenski is a liability to the safety of our children and needs to be fired ASAP. SRVUSD is rewarding his reputation with salary of $217,273.00 vs $129,009.25 that Dublin school district was paying him. His pay history shows the fleeing from Antioch Unified after being named in the child abuse lawsuit with a salary of $151,658.71 to a salary of $129,009.25. SRVUSD offered a man with a history of covering up child abuse a job a salary of $208,414.00. The SRVUSD school board should be ashamed of not vetting Rogenski's salary history.


5 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 13, 2020 at 8:46 am

Joe - the money comes from the insurance company, not taxpayers. That's what insurance companies are for.


62 people like this
Posted by NotHappy
a resident of Danville
on Feb 13, 2020 at 9:09 am

Nick the money, less a sizable deductible the taxpayers will pay, and the increased rates because of this incident for securing coverage for now and the future, does come from the taxpayers. Get informed


69 people like this
Posted by Ted
a resident of Danville
on Feb 13, 2020 at 9:14 am

Nick,
The money comes from the "The Northern California Regional Liability Excess Fund (NCR) is a non-profit member-owned and operated Joint Powers Authority (JPA) providing cost-effective risk management services to California public schools" which is funded by tax dollars this is not a private insurance company. Follow the money it is tax dollars the districts like to call it insurance money but in reality it is tax dollars from all districts that are members of the pool.


2 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 13, 2020 at 9:12 pm

The school district uses some tax money to pay for insurance, and generally most if not all of the settlement will come from the insurance policy.

Naturally, the insurance policy will cost more in the future. But taxpayer dollars are paying for the policy whether someone is sued or not. Insurance companies are sued for millions of dollars daily, and I don't remember having to pay 8 million more just because someone sued State Farm, Farmers or whomever my insurance carrier is.

Tax dollars are paying for the POLICY, NOT THE 8 MILLION DOLLAR SETTLEMENT. There's a big difference.


54 people like this
Posted by InsuranceAgent
a resident of Danville
on Feb 14, 2020 at 6:10 am

Nick,
You need to read the comment by 'Ted'. It all tax dollars no private insurance is used. SRVUSD pays 2.1 million dollars each year into the pool. The pool is managed by a law firm. The law firm is "Keenan & Associates . 2355 Crenshaw Blvd. Suite 200 . Torrance, CA 90501". After the law firm takes your tax dollars to manage the pool of money it hires lawyers and settles claims against the school districts. Private insurance companies did not like the high risk associated with school districts this forced the school to pool tax money together.

I am sure SRVUSD would love to hide the fact that they have already seen a jump in their required amount into the pool from 1.9 million to 2.1 million dollars from 2018-2019. With this settlement will probably see another large increase .


6 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 14, 2020 at 9:18 am

I thought it was an excess liability policy, which is not uncommon. Maybe schools need to get their act together, and stop the lawsuits. That's the ONLY thing that will save the taxpayers.


7 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 14, 2020 at 9:41 am

Keenan and Associates is NOT A LAW FIRM. It's a privately held INSURANCE BROKER. Google this INSURANCE BROKER yourself.


6 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Diablo
on Feb 14, 2020 at 10:16 am

Keenan & Assoc. in Torrance is an insurance company. Don't insurance companies deal with ins. policies? Keenan & Assoc. does deal with schools, school employees, etc. I've never heard of large settlements that didn't come from an insurance policy. They have a "one star" rating on Yelp. 7 reviews - all one stars. Great company.


53 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Danville
on Feb 14, 2020 at 1:12 pm

The entire school board needs to be recalled. Rick Schmitt needs to go. SRVUSD has never been so upside down. The children in this community are our future we need to do better!!We need leadership. We need to replace these incapable phonies and crooks.


15 people like this
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of Danville
on Feb 14, 2020 at 5:53 pm

The entire school board does need to be recalled. And I agree that no amount of $$$ will bring your son back. Since the firm handling this is an insurance company, I think the $8 million came from an insurance policy. Duh.


78 people like this
Posted by grateful4
a resident of Danville
on Feb 15, 2020 at 8:12 am

Curry family, you don't have what you want, which is for this nightmare to have never even happened.

Now that this stage is over, it is my hope that you can focus on sharing the facts, truth and details with the community that led to this preventable tragedy, so that no other family must go through what you are. Only the brave teacher at Cal High who pleaded with Board to do something (Nov 2017) demonstrated support for you. In advance of this terrible tragedy, he tried to prevent Ben's death. No one listened. Not one person in SRVUSD, SRVHS and/or DPD rallied for you. Ben went to school on May 8, 2018 and didn't come home. While you were awakening to Ben's empty bed and your unimaginable horror of life without him, Becker returned to work, business as usual, on May 9th. By staying silent until mid-summer, SRVHS and SRVUSD allowed rumors to swirl, generating inaccuracies. How is it that no one reached out to grieving parents, yet rolled out the welcome mat for the teacher who:

1. allowed his Lifeguard Certification to lapse, knowing the swim unit was coming up,

2. did not thoroughly check the perimeter of the pool before leaving "the classroom" (in this case, a pool)? If he checked, he would have noticed a body...Ben's body was the first thing everyone in 5th period saw when they arrived at the edge of the pool.

Those two things alone would seem to be the only things most important to the safety of students in 9th grade PE with a swimming unit, yet Becker failed on both.

My son was scheduled into one of Becker's classes in the Fall of 2018, months after Ben's death. At BTSN, Becker introduced himself to the parents in attendance and said, "Since there is no longer a Wood Shop program available (at SRVHS), this class is the most dangerous class on campus." What teacher says that, ever? And especially after a boy drowned under his supervision...only 3 months earlier?

A teacher who fears zero accountability for his actions, no matter how negligent.

Ben, we will help your parents keep your legacy alive!


76 people like this
Posted by SRVParent
a resident of Danville
on Feb 15, 2020 at 8:57 am

grateful4,
Thanks you so much for allowing me to see the level of arrogance Aaron Becker displays. I wanted to believe in my heart that he is devastated. Aaron Becker the community knows you are responsible for walking away from a drowning child. You should be on your knees begging the Curry's for forgiveness not making jokes about dangerous classes.

At the recent SRVUSD board meeting Tracy Davis shared her experience on the day Ben died. It reveals the facts on what the school district was aware the day Ben drown in Aaron's class.

Web Link
Go to minute 24:10 to see her address the SRVUSD board.


75 people like this
Posted by Grandparent
a resident of Danville
on Feb 15, 2020 at 4:59 pm

Please watch the Tracy Davis video from the board meeting. She is incredibly well spoken and nailed it. How is Rick Schmitt still employed? Unbelievable how inept he and the school board are on multiple levels.
The comments on Becker are also very disturbing. How in the world is he allowed around our kids?
It’s time the SRVUSD board takes actions to fix the district’s lack of leadership.


5 people like this
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of Danville
on Feb 16, 2020 at 7:24 am

Keenan and Associates

"Our integrated approach gives our clients the optimum balance of prevention, risk retention, rapid claims resolution and premium savings."

The $8 million settlement obviously came from an insurance policy, and why anyone would think any differently is beyond me. Are people really that naïve?


62 people like this
Posted by SanDiegoMom
a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2020 at 5:52 pm

Considering that Rick Schmitt is the superintendent, I'm not the least bit surprised that the PE teacher was not fired or disciplined. Rick was the superintendent of my childrens' middle and high school district in North San Diego County (SDUHSD) before he was hired to fill the position at SRVUSD. Rick would never stick up for the parents in the district. During his tenure here, his position was pretty much that the parents were always wrong and the teachers were always right. Absolutely everything the teachers wanted, they got! There never seemed to be any compromise. Teachers were not disciplined or fired, even when there were serious issues. The school district was in turmoil and I believe that is why he left to pursue the position at SRVUSD. My children have since graduated from high school in the SDUHSD, but from what I can ascertain, it appears that the new superintendent here is doing a much better job.


58 people like this
Posted by Ted
a resident of Danville
on Feb 18, 2020 at 6:41 am

Quote from Rogenski : “Most of us know that public education in the Bay Area has faced increased scrutiny and negative press in the recent past for a variety of reasons, some of which are probably justified, others of which are not. A number of high-profile cases which have recently been documented in the local media about alleged employee misconduct toward students have caused some to question whether the public schools are safe places for children. Some criticism has even also been lodged against schools for seemingly supporting and defending their employees at the expense of protecting the health and safety of their students. I believe these concerns are ill-conceived and unfounded."

Rogenski has an extreme view of what "seemingly supporting" is. Aaron Becker was and continues to be supported by Rogenski and it makes me sick. How dare he say "concerns are ill-conceived and unfounded." this is from a man who is responsible to investigate complaints lodged by parents against teachers.


50 people like this
Posted by bb
a resident of Danville
on Feb 18, 2020 at 10:33 am

Tracy Davis is remarkable. Rick Schmidt, the Board and Aaron Becker should all be removed. What a shameful group. Let's vote out the board to start change. Can those not up for reelection be recalled?


18 people like this
Posted by NotHappy
a resident of Danville
on Feb 21, 2020 at 3:31 pm

Its been a few weeks since the settlement and I have had the time to reflect and had hoped to come to a " calm " resolve. Just the opposite ! Becker is a liar, Schmitt is incompetent and Rogenski is a joke. They should all be removed and prosecuted !!


26 people like this
Posted by SRVParent
a resident of Danville
on Feb 22, 2020 at 8:12 am

NotHappy,
I also have reached the same conclusion. This school district administration and board is arrogant in regard to the safety of our children.

Searching for an understanding of how does a school district allow a child to die and then create no new policies to insure are kids are safe. In reviewing the SRVUSD board meetings learned that the disregard of the safety of our children is on going and continues. During the power outages in Oct 2019 they kept elementary schools open without lights and heat. No working fire alarm, class room temperature below 60 degrees, a handful of flashlights, safe routes to school closed because of downed trees etc. During the SRVUSD school board meeting Chris George presents where he showers praise on the district for an outstanding job in keeping students and teachers working in dangerous conditions. But listen to the teachers and staff rebuttal later in the meeting for the true story of an arrogant school district attitude in regard to the safety of our children.

Web Link
To listen to Chris George presentation go to 35:57 a glowing report. At time 1:04:09 the teachers and union report on the true dangers our kids and teachers faced to allow arrogant school administration to keep 4 schools open.

As I watched this video I flashed back to the video of the teacher warning the SRVUSD board and administration that a child was going to drown in Nov 2017 only to have a child drown in May 2018. Is this a repeat of an arrogant school district administration and board ignoring the warning because dollars are valued greater than the the safety of our children?


8 people like this
Posted by JaneDoe
a resident of Walnut Creek
on Feb 23, 2020 at 10:27 am

Well, it's surprising and amazing, what Major positive changes, progress and results are achieved by big chunks of money. Hitting 'em in the pocketbook through legal actions has helped our entire country to enact better laws and better attitudes to protect our citizens. Not only that high school, but probably schools with pools all across our country, right now, have been carefully enacting all kinds of safety rules and trainings due not just only to this terrible unthinkable drowning of a high school student during a P.E. swim class, but also to the resulting financial 'Big Chunk' that their shocking Negligence caused the whole school district, as well.


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