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Parents file suit against People to People

Sat., Aug. 2, 2008, midnight

Action claims company negligent in caring for daughter

A Virginia couple whose 11-year-old daughter became ill while traveling in Australia in 2006 has filed a federal lawsuit against the Spokane-based educational travel company that took her abroad.

Dorothy and Paul Spiotta say People to People Student Ambassador Programs and its adult employees traveling with students were negligent in caring for the girl, who became malnourished while on a three-week summer trip.

The Spiottas declined through their Seattle attorney to comment. In their lawsuit, they say their daughter, who left home in good health weighing about 110 pounds, lost 19 pounds during the trip. The suit also claims that her adult supervisors failed to notice and respond to signs that she was ill and not eating. As a result the girl had to be hospitalized upon her return home.

“Over the next five months, (the girl) received inpatient care for seven weeks, followed by intensive outpatient treatment until January 2007,” the lawsuit says. “She has continued to receive treatment since then.” The lawsuit was not specific as to the girl’s medical condition.

People to People CEO Jeff Thomas said the company takes pride in its record of safety, which he called “our top priority.”

“It is unfortunate, but lawsuits of this nature are inherent in our industry when you travel more than 30,000 children and adults annually around the world,” he said, adding that participants must disclose their health conditions and seek a physician’s approval before traveling.

In January, a Minnesota couple filed a wrongful death suit against People to People, claiming their diabetic son died as a result of negligence while in the company’s care in Japan.

Allen and Sheryl Hill said in their lawsuit filed in Hennepin County (Minn.) District Court that People to People supervisors failed to take their son, Tyler, 16, to the hospital and notify them when he became severely ill after climbing Mount Fuji. He lapsed into a coma and died in Tokyo on June 29, 2007.

The Hills also are working to enact federal legislation that would impose safety and reporting standards on People to People and similar companies.

The Spiottas seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as well as an injunction to prevent People to People from doing future harm.

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