$5 Million Settlement for Family in Wrongful Death Case Arising from Fraudulent Conduct


Kelly Stokes as mother and Personal Representative of the Estate of Ryan Clifton, Stokes, et al. v. Lakeland Tours, LLC d/b/a WorldStrides, Inc.
Case Number: 23-CV-2020-900051
Covington County, Alabama, Circuit Court

On January 26, 2024, the law firms of Cunningham Bounds and Laird, Baker & Blackstock obtained a $5 million settlement against Lakeland Tours, LLC d/b/a WorldStrides, Inc. The settlement was on behalf of the family of a 15-year-old boy who died after becoming ill during a school field trip in Washington, D.C. The settlement came on the fifth day of the trial.

WorldStrides is a large student travel company that operates educational travel trips all over the world. WorldStrides’ marketing materials promoted a “Doctors on Call” program which it claimed gave its customers access to a dedicated team of emergency physicians who would take care of students on Washington, D.C. trips if a medical event occurred.

In June 2018, a Cunningham Bounds’ client sent her 15-year-old son, Ryan Stokes, to Washington, D.C. on a WorldStrides trip. Due to her son’s medical history, Ryan’s mother relied on WorldStrides’ representations that if a medical problem occurred, a medical doctor would be available to treat her son.

During the trip, Ryan became sick in the middle of the night and notified one of the chaperones that he had thrown up and was still having severe stomach pain. The chaperone notified WorldStrides to initiate the “Doctors on Call” program. Both the chaperone and Ryan’s mother believed that a doctor was coming to see Ryan. However, unbeknownst to them, an unlicensed physician assistant—not an emergency physician— was sent to the hotel. The P.A. misdiagnosed Ryan with minor, non-life-threatening conditions and did not refer him for imaging. Contrary to WorldStrides’ representations, no doctor was consulted or involved in the care. The following morning, Ryan collapsed and became unresponsive. 911 was called, and he was rushed to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with a bowel obstruction. Surgery was performed but Ryan never regained consciousness and he died three days later.

Cunningham Bounds attorney Joseph McGowin said, “Companies like WorldStrides should be held to account 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.”

Mr. McGowin represented the Stokes family along with Cunningham Bounds attorneys Skip Finkbohner, Dave Wirtes, and Joe Steadman and attorney Wesley Laird of Laird, Baker & Blackstock.

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