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Feb 28, 2017

A school in Beijing is 80 percent responsible for the death of one of its students, a district court has ruled.

After being bitten by a dog on Dec. 17, 2015, the middle school pupil had received a series of four rabies vaccinations. Ten days later, he fainted after playing a game of basketball for his school league. He was rushed to the hospital but died that afternoon, local newspaper Beijing Evening News reported Monday.

According to an autopsy report, intense exercise had caused a “hypersensitive reaction” to the rabies vaccine. The boy — whom the report identified only with a pseudonym — ultimately died of heart failure. He was in his second year of middle school and was his parents’ only child.

The boy’s parents sued the organizers of the basketball game, including the school and sports center — none of which are identified by name in the report — for 1.74 million yuan ($253,000) in compensation. They were ultimately awarded 929,870 yuan to cover their medical and funeral expenses and to compensate for the death of their child and resulting psychological damage. Beijing’s Dongcheng District People’s Court held the school 80 percent responsible for the child’s death; the parents were responsible for the remaining 20 percent.

Liu Yue, a partner at Haishang Law Firm in Shanghai and a former immunization specialist, told Sixth Tone that dividing responsibility like this is usually not the result of a precise calculation, but is done at the judge’s discretion. The report did not mention why the judge thought that the parents bore some of the responsibility for their son’s death.

Liu said that a causal relationship between the student’s death and his rabies vaccination a few days prior is difficult to prove. “An allergic reaction to a vaccine usually happens within a few minutes after the injection, but it could also happen within one or two days,” he said.

The court held the school responsible because the student should not have been allowed to play sports after being vaccinated. His parents showed the court chat logs from messaging app WeChat that showed they had informed the school about the rabies vaccinations. The school nevertheless said that neither the boy’s homeroom teacher nor his basketball coach were aware of his condition, but did not provide evidence to support this claim. 

The court also said that the parents rightfully blamed the school and sports center for failing to provide any first aid between when the boy fainted and when the ambulance arrived, and for not sending the school’s dean, vice dean, or a sports medicine doctor to the scene.

According to Liu, the school’s delay in providing first aid was its biggest mistake, as speed is critical when treating the sudden onset of illness. “It’s a serious oversight for a school to not take action in time,” he said.

Additional reporting by Lin Qiqing.

(Header image: Middle school students play basketball in Beijing, Dec. 22, 2016. Tong Guangping/VCG)