Earlier this month, the Michigan Supreme Court heard a case brought by a grieving mother against the lifeguard she claimed was responsible for her son’s death. In the case, Beals v. State of Michigan, the plaintiff’s 19-year-old son who suffered from severe learning disabilities drowned while at a state-run swimming pool designed for children with learning disabilities.
The evidence at trial showed that there were 24 others in the pool at the time of the boy’s death. The lifeguard, who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was on duty but didn’t see the young man become submerged. In fact, no one in the pool saw the woman’s son go under water. It wasn’t until minutes later that another swimmer who had goggles on saw the boy at the bottom of the pool. Swimmers yelled for the lifeguard, but he didn’t respond for another several minutes. When emergency personnel arrived, they pronounced the boy dead.
The boy’s mother filed suit against the State of Michigan, as the operator of the pool, as well as the lifeguard, as a state employee. The lifeguard asserted “sovereign immunity” as a defense and asked the court to dismiss the case against him.