A former McKinley High School student hospitalized for five days in 2014 after he was ordered to perform 200 push-ups for being late to band practice was properly awarded $175,000 in general damages, an appeals court has ruled.
An East Baton Rouge Parish jury also rightfully awarded $5,000 to Tristen Rushing's mother, a three-judge panel of the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal said Tuesday.
But the panel reduced from $10,000 to $8,302 the amount of money the jury additionally awarded to Tristen Rushing in September 2018 for past medical expenses. Those expenses were not part of the $175,000 general damages award.
In total, Tristen Rushing will receive $183,302 of the $185,000 he was originally awarded.
Rushing and his mother, Melissa Rushing, sued the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, McKinley High and the school's former volunteer assistant band director, Jason Jones, in 2015.
It was Jones who ordered Tristen Rushing to do the push-ups as punishment for being tardy to marching band practice on Oct. 28, 2014, according to trial testimony.
Rushing was 16 when he was hospitalized with muscle and kidney issues after the incident. Medical testimony indicated Rushing's damaged muscles released an extremely high level of enzymes into his system, which threatened his kidneys and his life if left untreated.
Rushing testified his arms swelled so much that they resembled those of the cartoon character Popeye, and he said his urine turned "pitch-black."
First Circuit Judge Guy Holdridge wrote that the jury did not abuse its vast discretion in awarding $175,000 in general damages to Rushing.
“The jury heard evidence that Tristen was ostracized by his classmates for reporting the incident. Evidence was also presented demonstrating that following the incident, the once out-going, music-loving, friendly teenager became introverted, depressed, suicidal, and lost his passion for music,” Holdridge said.
Jones testified at the trial and apologized to the Rushings from the witness stand, saying, "I am truly sorry for what happened to you. I would not have ever done anything to hurt you. If I could take it all back I would.”
McKinley band director Frank Williams also offered an apology during his testimony. He said he never intended to inflict pain on Rushing or any band member. "It was never my intention, and I'm extremely sorry that happened," Williams stated.
Tristen Rushing said after the trial that McKinley marching band members are no longer disciplined with push-ups, and physicals are required before a student can join the band.
Sean Fagan, the attorney for the Rushings, had argued to the jury that it was "extremely negligent" to order an unconditioned band member to perform anywhere close to 200 push-ups.
Fagan argued ordering push-ups as punishment for being late to band practice violated the School Board’s policy prohibiting corporal punishment.
Carla Courtney, who represents the East Baton Rouge Parish School System in the case, argued School Board policy did not forbid push-ups. She told the jury that push-ups are not unreasonable.