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Polsenberg family sues district, county for student's death

Posted at 10:36 PM, Aug 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-21 18:29:47-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The family of a 16-year-old boy who died as a result of a heat stroke in 2017 has filed a lawsuit against Lee County Schools, the Riverdale football coach and Lee County EMS.

Zachary Martin-Polsenberg was at football practice when he collapsed on the field while running drills.

A judge just dismissed efforts from the defendants to get the lawsuit dismissed.

According to lawsuit documents, the family believes Zachary suffered from a heat stroke during football practice and was negligently supervised by coaches and staff employed by Riverdale High School.

In an interview with Fox 4 in May Laurie Giordano said Lee County Schools and Riverdale High School failed to save her son Zach Polsenberg’s life.

“A $150 tub, ice and water, could’ve saved my son’s life,” she said. “I not only lost my son in that moment, but I’ve lost whatever future he had.”

The lawsuit Polsenberg’s parents filed Friday claims the intense football practice at Riverdale led by coach James Delgado, and lack of water caused the heat stroke that killed Zach.

“…long and grueling 3 hours of practice, DELGADO subjected ZACHARY to unreasonably dangerous conditioning drills

(FS) Furthermore, at the time the sprints began, DELGADO had not given ZACHARY and the other players access to water for nearly 45 minutes.”

Ty Roland, the attorney representing Polsenberg’s family said the school should’ve done a better job to save his life.

“You’ve spent a tremendous amount of time on X’s and O’s. Have you spent any time on what the safety plan is?” He asked. “Schools, districts, coaches put great emphasis on winning. That’s great. No one would say that that’s wrong. No one would say that that’s bad. But, you’ve got to put as much if not more emphasis on safety.”

Lee County Schools added those tubs after Polsenberg’s death, but last year the Florida High School Athletic Association or FHSAA only strongly suggested schools have them, so it’s still not required.

The suit also claims,”Delgado calmly told the 911 operator that Zachary was “fine.”

According to the lawsuit, EMS did not attempt to cool or hydrate Polsenberg before sending him to the hospital.

In a statement Lee County said the incident was a tragedy, but their EMS staff followed the right protocol, so they don’t expect any liability.

"The incident was a tragedy. We understand the pain the family is going through. However, our staff acted in strict accordance with all acceptable medical protocol, therefore we do not anticipate any liability accruing to Lee County.”

Roland said Polsenberg’s mom just wants to make sure no more students die on the field.

“She wants to make sure that schools have an emergency action plan in place,” he said.

Lee County Schools told Fox 4 they won’t comment because of pending litigation.

Since Zach’s death, his mother has dedicated her time, pushing for heat-related safety measures in schools statewide.

HBO aired a program that included Zach's story. The focus of the show was on the lack of safeguards around the country when it comes to protecting young athletes from overheating.