This case involves the wrongful death of a small child after she drowned in a local lake. A heavily contested liability case, the matter resolved after changes in experts, numerous revelations about the lake itself uncovered in the discovery process, and ultimately a good resolution for a deserving family.
A mother and father took their three young children to a lake for a family outing. When they arrived, they went to the boat dock to rent a boat. Unfortunately, they did not have the necessary paperwork to rent the boat so since it was a hot day they decided to play in the lake and cool off.
While they were on the dock, they asked one of the concessionaire’s employees where they should go to play in the lake. This gentleman pointed to a specific area and told them that there were already a number of people there and it was a good place to get wet.
When the family arrived at the location they were directed to, there were already a large number of people swimming and playing in the water. The father advised the kids to play near the shore and not to go too deep. The father entered the water with his three girls and they began to wade and splash around in the shallow of the lake. The bottom of the lake was flat, smooth and sandy, although the visibility in the water was limited to 6-12 inches. The girls were playing in the water anywhere from ankle depth to a couple feet deep.
As the father was attending to one of his children, he heard another of his kids yell “Daddy, Daddy.” She was approximately 5-6 feet from him. As he turned he saw that child and his other daughter begin to slip under the water. He rushed towards them and as he approached their location he encountered a sudden and unexpected drop off in the lake floor and he began to sink and go under the water himself. He was somehow able to grab one of his daughters and throw her toward shore. As he himself struggled to remain above water he felt his other daughters hair as she slipped out of his grasp and toward the bottom of the lake.
The father was somehow able to get out of the water where he and his wife frantically called for help. No one responded. They ran toward the dock and finally they were able to obtain the assistance of one of the rangers. An underwater search was performed and, tragically, they found the body of the young girl and she was unable to be resuscitated.
- Both the governmental entity that owned the lake and the surrounding land and the concessionaire that managed and controlled the lake and surrounding recreational use areas were negligent and allowed a dangerous condition to exist.
- To the general public, the beach at the lake where the family was told they could swim appeared to be an inviting and safe place for picnicking, wading and playing in the water. The lake appeared to have a sandy bottom that was shallow with a very slow, gradual and gentle slope towards the middle of the channel of the lake. However, there was an unseen and sudden drop off in depth from approximately 2-3 feet to over 10 feet that was an unseen and hazardous condition.
- The defendants failed to warn the general public about the unsafe and dangerous drop off in the lake depth and failed to take reasonable actions to protect the public.
Schurmer and Wood was able to reach a very significant settlement that allowed the family to relocate and purchase a home and to provide for all of the surviving children’s future educational needs and expenses.