CHICAGO – The family of a sixth-grader who choked to death on marshmallows while playing a classroom game settled their lawsuit with the suburban school district for $2 million Thursday as the trial was in its second week.
The judge dismissed the jurors after attorneys announced the deal. The parents of 12-year-old Catherine "Casey" Fish (search) had been asking for unspecified damages.
"This case was never about money," the family's attorney, Francis Patrick Murphy, said outside court. "This case has been about getting the message across to America that dangerous games should not be played in school, with or without supervision."
Casey's parents had argued that Glenview School District 34 (search) and teacher Kevin Dorken (search) were responsible for the girl's death because Dorken, who had been supervising the game, was out of the room when the children started stuffing marshmallows in their mouths, seeing who could hold the most and still say the words "chubby bunny."
School attorney Thomas DiCianni had argued that Casey never really was out of teachers' supervision because the way the school's rooms are set up, other teachers were within view of Dorken's room.
"There would have been no winners had this case gone to the end, regardless of how it turned out," DiCianni said Thursday.
One of the girls who had been in the room with Casey, Elissa Henricks, now 18, had described the scene to Cook County Circuit Court jurors on Wednesday, saying Casey's lips had turned purple as she struggled to breathe.
The girls ran for help and found teacher Linda Friedman in an adjacent room.
Friedman testified that she found Casey lying on her side, apparently choking. Dorken walked back into the room and tried to do the Heimlich maneuver on the limp girl, Friedman said, and the school health coordinator then started CPR.
Casey died a few hours later at a hospital.
"I'd say it's a parent's worst nightmare, but nightmares end," Casey's father, John Fish, said after the settlement was announced. "Unless you've ever lost a child, please don't even try to imagine it."
Murphy said he had been prepared to call Casey's parents and Dorken to testify. The school district's $2 million settlement offer, to be covered entirely by insurance, came as a surprise, he said. He said it was what the parents had asked for.
Afterward, he said, the jurors asked to meet with Casey's parents and expressed their sympathy.