Hurt at School - WSVN-TV - 7NEWS Miami Ft. Lauderdale News, Weather, Deco

Hurt at School

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11th-grader Rochelle Hartley 11th-grader Rochelle Hartley
Judith Lim, Rochelle's mother Judith Lim, Rochelle's mother

Your child is at school and gets hurt, an injury that makes it difficult for them to go to class, an injury that runs up thousands of dollars in medical bills. And who has to pay those bills? The kid who hurt your child, or the school? It's why one South Florida mother called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

WSVN -- Rochelle loved going to high school.

Rochelle Hartley: "It's different. In the stuff they teach, how they teach it."

Her mother Judith loved that the 11th-grader was making all A's at Piper High School.

Judith Lim: "I used to show up there and I used to tell people, 'Oh, she is on the principal's honor roll.'"

And then one day in band class, her favorite class, where Rochelle played the trombone, a student with a baritone, like this, turned his instrument towards Rochelle's ear.

Judith Lim: "A boy blew his baritone in her ear."

Rochelle Hartley: "And all of a sudden I feel this huge force in my ear, and my ear starts hurting really, really bad."

The classmate said it was an accident and apologized. That was in October. The next day her headaches got worse and worse.

Rochelle Hartley: "The headaches are like pounding, pounding all over my head."

Judith took Rochelle to several specialists. She had a CAT scan. An audiologist said she had reduced hearing. Another doctor found damage.

Judith Lim: "When we looked in her ear, it seems like she had a nerve, in her ear, nerve damage."

Judith doesn't have insurance. The bills to try to find out how to stop the horrible headaches have grown to over $10,000.

Judith Lim: "Who is going to be paying all these bills? I've been paying as much as I can. It reached a point where we didn't even have food. That never happened to me before."

Judith asked the people at Piper High School to check with their insurance company to see if they'd pay for her medical care.

Judith Lim: "The insurance company said, 'Oh, the school is not liable because it was an accident.'"

As the months have gone by, Rochelle has gotten worse.

Rochelle Hartley: "Walking from this room to the bedroom, I have to hold on to places so I don't lose myself or fall or faint."

Being unable to walk from class to class, Rochelle started missing school. And that straight-A student? Look at her grades now.

Judith Lim: "The grades began to fall, so we were introduced to F's."

The bills are piling up. The parents of the boy who blew his baritone in Rochelle's ear say they aren't responsible. The school says they aren't responsible. Rochelle says, then who?

Judith Lim: "Who is liable? Who should help me? Who should reimburse me? Where can I turn for help?"

Well, Howard, Rochelle needs medical treatment to get better to go back to high school. So, Judith's question: Legally, who is responsible?

Howard Finkelstein: "The school would be responsible if they were negligent in supervising the students. In this case it was an accident, meaning the school is not liable. In fact, the parents of the kid who blew the baritone are off the hook. Legally, you could go after the student who hurt Rochelle's ear, but a high school kid doesn't have any money, meaning Rochelle's mother is stuck with the medical bills."

We talked to the Broward School District, who told us that Judith's request to get the district to pay the medical bills had undergone multiple reviews, but they agree with Howard: They're not responsible. The district spokesperson did say they're working to assist the family with resources outside the school to support Rochelle, meaning Rochelle will now do her classes from home, online. Howard says, legally the district has to find a way to help her finish school.

Howard Finkelstein: "It's a federal law requiring the school accommodate Rochelle's disability and teach her at school or from home, whichever is best for her."

Rochelle will try to get her grades back up online. Judith will try to find a way to get the medical care her daughter needs, and they both hope that their nightmare will soon end.

Judith Lim: "One night she woke up and said, 'Mom, I want to go back in time.' I said, 'Baby, I can't help you with that.' She cries in her sleep because it's too much pain. I want my daughter back. I want my daughter to be normal."

Judith is still trying to get treatment for Rochelle's ear. We're trying to help her as well, and if you have any suggestions, please let us know. Also, if your child is hurt at school and you have health insurance, they are covered. If you don't have insurance, schools do sell a policy in case your child is accidentally injured on school grounds or during afterschool activities.

Gotten schooled by someone who is now adding insult to injury? Ready to educate them? Contact us. We don't toot our own horn, but hopefully our work will be music to your ears.

With this Help Me Howard, I'm Patrick Fraser, 7News.

CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:

E-mail: helpmehoward@wsvn.com (please include your contact phone number when e-mailing)
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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