$5 million settlement reached in lawsuit involving 2018 death of Pleasant Home student

Published 12:14 pm Thursday, February 1, 2024

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A $5 million settlement was reached last week in a Covington County civil trial involving the 2018 death of a Pleasant Home student.

Ryan Stokes

Ryan Stokes, who was 15, traveled to Washington D.C. with a group of area students and teachers when he became ill and collapsed. He was airlifted to Children’s National Hospital in Washington D.C. where he underwent surgery for intestinal malrotation. He was placed on life support, but did not recover.

The incident led to a civil lawsuit against Lakeland Tours, LLC dba WorldStrides, Inc., a prominent student travel company that marketed a “Doctors on Call” program, assuring customers access to a dedicated team of emergency physicians for the care of students during trips.

The legal firms of Cunningham Bounds and Laird, Baker and Blackstock secured the $5 million settlement against WorldStrides. The settlement was reached on the fifth day of the trial. According to lawyers representing Stokes’ family, the settlement exposed a discrepancy between what the company told parents and the actual care provided.

“In June 2018, a Cunningham Bounds client entrusted her 15-year-old son, Ryan Stokes, to a WorldStrides trip. Relying on the company’s representations, especially due to her son’s medical history, she believed that if a medical issue arose, a qualified doctor would be readily available. Unfortunately, when Ryan became sick during the trip, the reality starkly differed from the promised “Doctors on Call” program,” the law firm stated in a press release.

According to the plaintiffs, despite a chaperone’s notification to WorldStrides and the belief that a doctor was en route, an unlicensed physician assistant — rather than an emergency physician — was dispatched to the hotel. The physician assistant misdiagnosed Ryan and failed to involve a doctor, leading to devastating consequences. Ryan collapsed the following morning, was rushed to the emergency room, diagnosed with a bowel obstruction, underwent surgery, but tragically, never regained consciousness and passed away three days later.

Attorney Joseph McGowin of Cunningham Bounds emphasized the need for accountability.

“Companies like WorldStrides should be held accountable when they choose to put children at risk through deceptive sales tactics. Ryan’s family deeply appreciates the dedication of the jurors in Covington County who served on this case. After years of denying responsibility, WorldStrides only offered a fair settlement once a jury had heard the evidence and a verdict was imminent,” McGowin said.

Stokes was described by family and friends as a thoughtful, funny, and happy teenager. When he received his learner’s driving permit earlier in 2018, he made the decision to be an organ donor which benefitted multiple others, including a 12-year-old girl who received his heart.

Representing the Stokes family alongside Joseph McGowin were Cunningham Bounds attorneys Skip Finkbohner, Dave Wirtes, and Joe Steadman, as well as attorney Wesley Laird of Laird, Baker and Blackstock. Cunningham Bounds has offices in Mobile and Atlanta. More information on Cunningham Bounds can be found at cunninghambounds.com.