John Dahlgren, one of 10 University High School students injured in a lunch-hour traffic accident in 1984, agreed Monday to a $240,000 out-of-court settlement of his claims against the Irvine Unified School District.
The accident left Dahlgren, who was graduated in June, with permanent injuries and triggered revisions in the district's "open-campus" policies.
Dahlgren was critically injured when the pickup truck in which he and nine other students were riding during their lunch hour rolled over at Yale Avenue and Royce Road on Feb. 21, 1984. The driver, Jeffrey W. Baker, lost control of the truck and hit a tree.
Baker's insurance company, United Services Automobile Assn., agreed to an earlier settlement of the passengers' claims against its $100,000 coverage; $48,500 went to Dahlgren.
"I think it's a fair settlement all the way around," said Gregory Munoz, Dahlgren's lawyer. "His injuries were very substantial. The liability of the school district was somewhat on the difficult side (to prove), but the exposure of the school district was quite large."
Irvine schools Supt. Stanley Corey could not be reached for comment.
Dahlgren suffered massive head trauma, spinal damage, paralysis on his right side, a broken leg and loss of memory, Munoz said.
"The boy had medical bills well in excess of $125,000," Munoz said.
Munoz said Dahlgren, who plans to enter a community college this fall, cannot concentrate or study as well as he did before the accident.
"In view of the catastrophic injuries, he has made a fairly good recovery," Munoz said. "He still has difficulty with peripheral vision, he has difficulty with concentration, and he has memory lapses.
The other eight students who settled their claims earlier were Wendy Allari, Joseph Kuhel, Amy Valdez, John Ferrel, Erin Edwards, Glenda Sullivan, Samantha Smith and David Thorton, according to Munoz.
Under the school district's open-campus policy at the time of the accident, juniors and seniors could leave the campus whenever they wished, with no parental permission required. The lawsuit said the district allowed freshmen and sophomores at University High to leave campus during the school day only with written permission from parents.
As a result, school officials had a duty to see that students did not leave campus if they did not have permission, according to Munoz.
"That was the big issue of the case--whether the school itself was enforcing its own policy," Munoz said. "We had strong evidence that freshmen and sophomores were leaving campus at will, with no effort to enforce the policy."
Nine months after the accident, a new policy began that requires every student in ninth through 12th grade in the district to submit as a condition of registration a signed form stating whether the student has parental permission to leave at lunchtime.
Identification cards were issued stating when students have permission to leave campus.
"They changed the policy," Munoz said. "They have roped off all entrances and exits to the parking lot during lunch hour. There's a guard at that one open exit checking IDs."
Dahlgren could not be reached for comment.