February 3, 2020

A Cup of Joe | 15-Year-Old Student Dies On Disneyland Band Trip

Must the Show Always Go On? 15-Year-Old School Band Member Dies On the Road


This week we head out to Seaford High School (Long Island), home of the Seaford High Vikings. UFC fighter, Al Iaquinta (ranked No. 9), is from Seaford. Musician Matthew Koma attended Seaford High before eventually performing with Tiesto and synthwave artists, Midnight Kids; world-class drummer, Liberty Devitto (played with Billy Joel, Meat Loaf, Carly Simon, Stevie Nicks and Karen Carpenter), also graduated from Seaford High. According to Liberty, growing up in Seaford, “You could swim in the canals in summer and ice skate in the winter. There were fruit trees and open lots to play guns (toy), baseball and have dirt bomb fights.”

The subject of this week’s case was a sophomore at Seaford High. He was also a musician. He was on a Seaford High marching band trip to perform in Disney Land. He complained to the chaperones that he was not feeling well but was told to push on.  Eventually, he was taken to the hospital. But it was too late. The student died. His name was Joseph Tutaj. He was 15.

Joseph’s parents sued the school. The school wanted to have the case dismissed. Here is what happened in court:


Robert and Eileen Tutaj - Joseph’s parents

Brian Conboy - school district superintendent

Testimony of Joseph’s Father:

Q: How old are you?

A: 56.

Q: Tell us about Joseph. How old was he when he went on the class trip to Southern California?

A: He was 15. A sophomore. He looked older because he was 6 feet 2 inches tall. But he was a gentle giant. I have been battling stage-four cancer and we had lost our home in Seaford Harbor, which was completely destroyed by Super-storm Sandy, and Joe had worked hard to support his family during a difficult period in their lives. My son should be coming home from school now and playing catch with me. His death is something I'm never going to be able to accept. He should still be alive right now.

Testimony of School District Superintendent Brian Conboy:

Q: Did the assigned chaperones handle the situation properly?

A: We are confident that our staff followed all necessary protocols. The youth was treated with the utmost care and concern.

Testimony of Chaperone X:

Q: How many chaperones were assigned for this trip?

A: There were eight chaperones.

Q: And how many students were there?

A: There were 80 students on the band trip.

Q: And where were the performances scheduled to take place?

A: Disney Land and Six Flags Great Adventure.

Q: Both of those parks have medical facilities, right?

A: Yes. He was taken to the parks’ medical facilities.

Q: And what did the health care providers inform you about Joseph’s health?

A: That he was running a temperature between 102 and 105

Q: But was still taken to Disney Land and Six Flags Great Adventure with the other students on the trip to those theme parks rather than transported immediately to a hospital?

A: Yes. He wanted to try to push through. He was so disappointed.

Q: But Joseph was taken to a hospital?

A: Yes. He was transported by ambulance to a California hospital after complaining the fever getting worse. We was asked if he wanted to go home but he said he was feeling too ill to fly home.

Q: What hospital was he taken to?

A: Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. Within 24 hours, we were informed that Joseph was gone.

Q: And what was the determined cause of death?

A: An autopsy revealed that it was Invasive Streptococcal Infection.


Your Honor, this case must be dismissed against the school. This sad occurrence did not take place during school hours. This was extracurricular. We agree that if this occurred during regular school hours then the school must, by law, act in the place of the parent. But because it occurred after hours, the less stringent "reasonably prudent person" standard applies.

Once students leave their school's orbit of authority, parents are free to resume custodial control and the school's custodial duty ceases.


This was not an after-school football game in Seaford. This 15-year-old boy’s parents were thousands of miles away. Joseph was running a temperature between 102 and 105 but was still taken to Disney Land and Six Flags Great Adventure with the other students on the trip and observed at medical facilities at those theme parks rather than transported immediately to a hospital. If a throat culture had been done quickly to determine that Joseph had a strep infection, antibiotics could have been prescribed that could have prevented his death, which occurred within 24 hours of arriving at the hospital.

A school district has the duty to exercise the same degree of care and supervision over pupils under its control as a reasonably prudent parent would exercise under the same circumstances. A school, in assuming physical custody and control over its students, effectively takes the place of parents and guardians. A parent would not have allowed this young person to roam around Southern California in the sick condition he was in for a week. The school breached their duty to the parents, to the deceased boy, and to the school district.


Contrary to the School's contention, the "reasonably prudent PARENT" standard applies to the circumstances of this case, rather than the less rigorous "reasonably prudent PERSON" standard, and because of that, they have failed to show that they are entitled to dismissal. The case will NOT BE DISMISSED.

Joseph’s parents’ case will be decided by a jury.


The appeals court agreed with the judge and allowed the case to go to a jury. Joseph’s case was argued by Jessica Kronrad, Esq.

Mother’s Statement after Decision:

“A lawsuit won't bring our son back, but might help prevent similar tragedies in the future.”

See you next week.

Here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_00451.htm

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