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A Philadelphia jury Wednesday afternoon awarded more than $6.6 million to the estate of an 8-year-old boy who drowned during his first swimming class at a Delaware County, Pa., summer camp after both lifeguards on duty abandoned their posts. Plaintiffs attorneys Thomas R. Kline and Matthew A. Casey of Kline & Specter said the evidence in the three-day trial showed that Camp Sunshine in Media, Pa., had a policy that required two lifeguards on duty whenever children were swimming. But when Anthony Slaughter was taking his first swimming class on July 15, 2002, they said, an 18-year-old lifeguard allowed a 15-year-old lifeguard to take a break; the older lifeguard then completely abandoned the 14 children in the pool by going to the bathroom, according to court documents. Just one day before, they said, Anthony had been evaluated by the camp as a C-level swimmer, the lowest proficiency level. A medical expert testified that Anthony’s body remained in the water for five to 10 minutes before he was pulled from the pool and that he suffered an especially harrowing death, Kline said. In his closing argument, Kline said he used the testimony of Dr. Jerome H. Modell, an expert on the pathology of drowning, to recreate the horror of the final minutes of Anthony’s life as his lungs filled with water and he slowly lost the ability to breathe. Named as defendants in the suit were two nonprofit companies — Delaware County Children’s Camp Association Inc., which owns Camp Sunshine, and Woodrock Inc., a Philadelphia company hired to manage the camp. In its verdict, the eight-member jury decided that both defendants were negligent but that the camp should bear 90 percent of the responsibility and Woodrock just 10 percent. Kline said that due to an ongoing dispute between the boy’s parents, who are separated, attorney James H. Gorbey was appointed by the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas to act as administrator of Anthony’s estate. Gorbey hired Kline & Specter to pursue a survival action. The case is captioned Gorbey v. Delaware County Children’s Camp Association Inc. Before the verdict was announced, Kline said, a partial settlement was struck when the camp’s primary and excess insurers agreed to pay its combined $4 million policy limit. Prior to the trial, Kline said, the camp had offered $1 million to settle the case — the limit on its primary policy — and on the first day of trial raised that offer to $1.5 million. In the settlement, Kline said, the camp also assigned to Anthony’s estate all of its rights to pursue bad faith claims against the insurers. Woodrock’s insurer never made any offer to settle, Kline said, and instead filed suit against Woodrock in U.S. District Court seeking rescission of its $3 million policy. In the suit, Markel Insurance Co. claims that Woodrock failed to disclose in a renewal application that it would be performing management for Camp Sunshine. In a recent ruling in the federal case, Kline said, U.S. District Judge Timothy Savage rejected the insurer’s motion for summary judgment and held that a jury must decide if Woodrock truly made a “material misrepresentation” in its application. Casey said the insurer’s burden is a heavy one in the federal case because it must prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that Woodrock’s failure to disclose its contract with Camp Sunshine amounted to a fraudulent misrepresentation. The trial in the survival action began on Monday before Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Gary DiVito. Kline said much of the evidence in the trial focused on the camp’s failure to follow its own policy that called for two lifeguards to be on duty at all times when children were in the pool. The camp had hired three lifeguards, Kline said, aged 22, 18 and 15. But Kline said the eldest lifeguard, Jennifer Clement, failed to instruct the two younger guards about the two-lifeguard policy. And the camp’s executive director, Richard Garrett, never established a rotation schedule to ensure that the policy would be properly implemented, Kline said. Kline said the pre-verdict settlement with the camp was struck soon after Garrett testified. At trial, Kline said, the camp’s lawyer, David Patterson of Swartz Campbell’s Pittsburgh office, argued that Woodrock was completely responsible for the accident since the lifeguards were its employees. But Kline argued that since the camp exercised control over the lifeguards, the lifeguards met the definition of a “borrowed servant.” Kline said Woodrock’s lawyer, Gerard X. Smith of Naulty Scaricamazza & McDevitt, told the jury that Woodrock accepted its fair share of responsibility for the accident, but insisted that it was limited. Due to the lateness of the verdict, neither of the two defense lawyers could be reached for comment. An economic expert, David Hopkins of West Conshohocken, testified that Anthony’s lost earnings were in the range of $2 million to $2.5 million, Kline said. That calculation, Kline said, was premised on the fact that Anthony’s mother is a college-educated worker whose prior work included clerking for the Pennsylvania Superior Court and recent work as a substitute teacher, and his father’s status as a high school graduate who works as a chef. Since the case was strictly a survival action — with no wrongful death claim — Kline said the jury’s verdict of more than $6.6 million clearly included a large award for the pain and suffering Anthony experienced in the final minutes of his life.

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