Special Needs Child Drowns at Day Camp – 1 Million Jury Verdict in The Estate of Barnabe Lucas, deceased minor v. Christian Youth Center Ministries, et al.

It’s summertime in Chicago and for many that means hot days, no school, and summer camp. Summer camps are a way for children to socialize with their peers, occupy their days, and give mom and dad an occasional break. But what happens when the people we entrust our children to do not protect our children? The Illinois wrongful death lawsuit of Estate of Barnabe Lucas, deceased minor v. Christian Youth Center Ministries, et al., 06 L 29, is a parent’s worst nightmare.

In 2004, nine year-old Barnabe Lucas was enrolled in a Will County day camp. Like many summer camps, the Christian Youth Center Ministries day camp included several day trips with its campers, including a weekly trip to a nearby wading pond. The pond was owned and operated by Leisure Lake Membership Resort, who did not provide lifeguards, a fact which it alerted bathers to with a clearly posted sign.

Within 30 minutes of arriving at the pond, a fellow day camper discovered Lucas unconscious in 3.5 to 4 feet of water. The camp director immediately pulled Lucas out of the wading pond and began administering CPR; shortly thereafter Lucas was transported to nearby Provena St. Joseph Hospital. He remained unresponsive on a respirator for four days and was then transferred to University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago for further care. However, just two days after his transfer Lucas died.

Lucas’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both the day camp and the waging pool operator. The Illinois negligence lawsuit alleged that the defendants were at fault for the child’s death through a failure to properly supervise the pond, provide lifeguards, or test any of the campers’ swimming abilities.

In response to the plaintiff’s allegations, the Leisure Lake Membership Resort stated that it clearly posted its lack of lifeguards and had made sure that the day camp was aware that it did not provide supervision. The Christian Youth Center Ministries pointed to the Illinois Bathing Code, which does not require certified lifeguards, and contended that a 2.5 to 1 ratio of campers to supervisors was adequate.

Furthermore, the day camp alleged that even had there been certified lifeguards that they likely would not have seen Lucas drown. In addition, the day camp asserted that it had in fact tested Lucas’s swimming abilities and determined that he could swim.

The wrongful death lawsuit was complicated by the fact that Lucas was a special-needs child; he had been diagnosed as mentally challenged and was considered to be functioning at the level of a four year-old. The Christian Youth Center Ministries contested that they were not made aware of Lucas’s disability. Had it known of Lucas’s additional needs, it would have either denied him admission to its non-special needs camp, or would have assigned one-on-one supervision for him.

However, the fact that Lucas’s parents did not make the day camp aware of his special needs did not seem to sway the jury, which returned a $1.98 million verdict against both defendants. Prior to the trial, the decedent’s attorney had made a demand for $800,000; however, the Christian Youth Center Ministries’s highest offer was only $350,000 and the Leisure Lake Membership Resort’s was only $125,000.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois wrongful death lawsuits for over 35 years, serving those areas in and around Chicago and Cook County, including Inverness, Naperville, Oak Park, and Wilmette.

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