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Child Dies While Swimming Unsupervised

Wrongful Death Case: History

HS was 13 years old when he was placed in the temporary custody of Children and Family Services (“CFS”). CFS, in turn, entrusted HS’s welfare to a group home owned and operated by a private company.

After only about a week at the group home, HS was taken to a local park to swim in the lake. HS was an inexperienced swimmer, and he had asthma. Although the water was very rough and lifeguards were not on duty, the employee responsible for watching HS left him unattended.

HS went into the water with another resident of the group home. At some point, the two children decided to swim back to shore. HS never made it. The search for HS was delayed initially by the fact that witnesses indicated that HS had emerged from the water and walked away from the park. It was also complicated by the fact that the water was too rough for divers and sonar equipment. Rescuers were unable to find HS on the evening of his disappearance, not with helicopters or boats or dogs.

The next day, divers dove, helicopters hovered, and sonar pinged. Still, no trace of HS. Finally, two days after he entered the water, HS’s body was found floating face down by an off-duty fireman on a jet ski. HS was pulled up into a rescue boat, and the medical examiner was called. An autopsy confirmed the cause of death was drowning.

Wrongful Death Case: Preparation and Investigation

The Eisen Law Firm was retained to represent HS’s estate and began investigating the matter immediately. The Eisen Law Firm gathered important pieces of evidence through FOIA requests to various local, county, and state agencies, as well as the United States Coast Guard. Although some of the entities cooperated with the requests, others were significantly less cooperative. The Eisen Law Firm persisted until it had what it needed.

The in-depth investigation determined that Group Home and its employee violated provisions of the Ohio Administrative Code relating to the operation of a children’s residential facility. Among other things, Group Home violated OAC Section 5101:2-9-18, which requires a residential facility to permit children to swim only when a person with appropriate lifesaving and water safety training is present, and Section 5101:2-9-02, which requires a residential facility to provide supervision within sight or sound of the children for whom it is responsible.

In addition to putting together evidence of liability, The Eisen Law Firm dug into the damages aspect of the case, meeting with family, religious leaders, and friends in order to get an understanding of who HS was and what his loss meant to those left behind. This was not a straightforward situation, as not everyone involved in HS’s life initially was “on the same page.” While HS was loved by many, his family relationships were complicated.

Once the initial investigation was complete, The Eisen Law Firm confronted Group Home with the results of its investigation. Thereafter, The Eisen Law Firm began working with Group Home’s retained attorneys to exchange discovery materials outside of formal litigation. After The Eisen Law Firm was certain it had obtained every piece of evidence it needed, settlement negotiations began.

Wrongful Death Case: Settlement

A seven-figure settlement was reached with Group Home and its insurance company. The settlement was shared among various family members, including HS’s siblings, who did not live with HS, but who loved him and looked up to him. In addition, Group Home was required by the state to revise its policies and procedures and to re-train employees on proper supervision of recreational activities. The employee responsible for watching HS was prosecuted for her role in HS’s death.