Parents File Wrongful Death Suit Against High School

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The parents of a Georgia girls' high school basketball player who died in August 2019 following an outdoor workout in extreme heat are suing Elite Scholars Academy.

As reported by NBC affiliate WXIA in Atlanta, attorneys representing the family of then-16-year-old Imani Bell announced Wednesday that they had filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

The lawsuit has been filed against the school's athletic director, girls' basketball team coach, principal and assistant principal, along with several unidentified assistant coaches, assistant athletic directors and other school or school district employees who were "present at, supervised, authorized and/or assisted with conducting the girls' basketball practice on August 13, 2019," according to the suit. The family's attorneys claim that negligence on the part of the defendants resulted in Imani's death. 

Attorneys say the outdoor basketball practice was approved by the school and supervised by the coaches, despite a heat advisory being issued for the area that day. They claim the temperature during the was between 96 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit, with relative humidity putting the heat index between 101 and 106.

"Due to the extreme heat and humidity outside, Imani began experiencing early signs of heat illness and was visibly struggling to physically perform the outdoor conditioning drills Defendants directed her to perform," the lawsuit reads, as reported by WXIA. "Defendants observed Imani experiencing early signs of heat illness during the outdoor practice but nevertheless directed Imani to continue performing the conditioning drills with her team and directed Imani to run up the stadium steps."

Bell, who had no pre-existing medical conditions, collapsed during the practice, lost consciousness and became unresponsive. She was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital and pronounced dead later that evening. In 2019, WXIA obtained a copy of the autopsy report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which indicates that the primary cause of Imani's death was a heart attack was brought on by physical exertion in a high heat environment.

At Wednesday's press conference, Bell's attorneys produced an e-mail that appears to have been sent the day before the teenager's death from Kevin May, the district-wide athletic director for Clayton County Public Schools. May wrote, "Please ensure that ALL COACHES are following all GHSA (Georgia High School Association) guidelines regarding heat policies," and "The safety of our student-athletes and coaches are our first priority." He also made coaches aware that temperatures were expected to be "exceedingly high," from the day he sent the e-mail and on the two following days.

The e-mail included a link to GHSA guidelines for practices and heat, and May noted practices should be altered to ensure compliance. 

In the lawsuit, attorneys argue the defendants failed to follow GHSA policies for practices, and in particular a guideline stating when the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature is found to be 92 degrees or above, there should be "No outdoor workouts."

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