Court Determines Lifeguard’s Failure to Save Drowning Child Wasn’t the “Cause” of the Boy’s Death

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.

The Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity

The doctrine of sovereign immunity acts to prevent people from suing government entities and employees while they are acting within the scope of their governmental duties. Sovereign immunity can be waived, however, under certain circumstances. That is what the plaintiff claimed was the case in her situation.

The boy’s mother claims that this case was an exception to the general rule applying sovereign immunity. While there are various instances in which sovereign immunity can be waived, at issue in this case was whether the lifeguard’s conduct was the “proximate cause” of the boy’s death. The court determined that it was not.

The court explained that nothing the lifeguard did caused the boy to become submerged underwater. While the court noted that there was probably something the lifeguard could have done to prevent the boy’s death, that does not mean that his conduct was the legal cause of the death. As a result, the court determined that the lifeguard’s sovereign immunity was not waived, and the mother’s wrongful death lawsuit against him will not continue forward.

Have You Been Injured By a Negligent Government Employee?

While this case took place in Michigan, the doctrine of sovereign immunity also applies in Maryland when a case is brought against a government entity, official, or employee. Therefore, if you have been injured by the negligent conduct of a government employee, you should make sure that you are represented by a diligent and experienced attorney who has handled these types of cases. Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for your injuries, including amounts for past medical bills, future medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. To learn more, and to speak with a dedicated attorney about your case, call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Federal Appellate Court Discusses Presumption of Negligence in Rear-End Accident Cases, Maryland Accident Law Blog, July 22, 2015.

Maryland Woman’s Medical Malpractice Claims Dismissed After Missing Statute of Limitations, Maryland Accident Law Blog, June 8, 2015.

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