$525,000 for the Death of Teen Who Drowned at a Public Beach

On July 14, 2007, 16-year-old Eric Jones went to the city of Springfield’s public beach with his brother and cousins. The public beach is located on Lake Springfield. Eric did not know how to swim. He was in the water at least chest-deep when he disappeared beneath the surface. His relatives, brother and cousins did not report him missing for an unknown number of minutes. The nearest lifeguard had not noticed Eric’s disappearance.

As soon as the lifeguards were notified, they began searching the lake for Eric. It took several minutes to find him in the opaque water. They were unable to resuscitate him.

Eric was survived by his mother and brother. The family filed a lawsuit arguing that the city lifeguards violated the city’s internal guidelines regarding where the lifeguards would be located, chose not to immediately form a line search in the area where Eric was last seen, and were guilty of willful and wanton misconduct for those failures. It was alleged in conclusion that the city’s actions or inactions were the cause of Eric’s drowning death.

Eric’s brother testified at trial that he told the guards Eric had gone under near a lifeguard stand but the guards searched instead in deeper water. On the other hand, several of the lifeguards testified that Eric’s companions told them he disappeared in deeper waters “out by the seawall.”

The city maintained that the beach was properly staffed with certified lifeguards, internal guidelines were met or exceeded other than failing to man the lifeguard chair on a nearby diving platform which would not have played a role in the rescue efforts. The city maintained that the guards frantically searched for Eric in the deeper water where he was last seen.

The jury reportedly deliberated for 4 hours before it reached a verdict of $750,000, which was reduced by 30% for contributory fault. The jury apparently returned two verdict forms for a net award of $525,000 on each count (negligent supervision of swimmers, improper rescue response), which added up to a total of $1,050,000. The presiding judge later ruled that the estate was entitled to only one recovery for one loss — the wrongful death and entered judgment for a total of $525,000. The jury’s verdict of that amount was based on the following damages:

• $262,500 for loss of society; and
• $262,500 for grief and sorrow.

Before trial the attorneys representing the estate of Eric Jones, Todd A. Bresney and John M. Dodd, asked the jury to return a verdict of $4 million. The city of Springfield, which is self-insured, made no offer to settle the case. The jury’s verdict was for the wrongful death of Eric Jones. Apparently, the city of Springfield has filed a notice of appeal, which is pending.

At trial, the plaintiff’s counsel submitted an expert in aquatics as did the defendant.

Estate of Eric N. Jones v. City of Springfield, No. 08 L 176 (Sangamon County, Ill.).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling premises liability cases, wrongful death lawsuits, automobile accident cases, truck accident cases and bicycle accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Worth, Harvey, Calumet City, Alsip, Blue Island, Oak Lawn, Bedford Park, Stickney, Harwood Heights, Glenview, Palatine, Buffalo Grove, Chicago (Norwood Park, Jefferson Park, Sauganash, Pulaski Park, Rosehill, West Ridge, Uptown, Andersonville, Edgewater, Lakeview, North Center, Greek Town, Near South, Chinatown, Bronzeville, Oakland, Jackson Park, South Shore, Avalon Park, Calumet Heights), Summit, Western Springs and St. Charles, Ill.

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