An Oregon High-School Swimmer’s Death Sparks Legal Action Against Her School, a Local City Government, and a Pool Cover Manufacturer

Statistics show that the water can be a dangerous place for children… even older ones. A few years ago, a study placed drowning as the third-leading cause of death among teens ages 15-17. More recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control declared that, for “children ages 1–14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes.” If that kind of horrible loss occurs due to the carelessness of adults or businesses, then those people and entities should be held to account. A knowledgeable Oregon wrongful death lawyer can offer essential advice and representation in doing just that.

A few months ago, The Oregonian again covered the story of the tragic 2019 drowning death of a 14-year-old high-school swimmer in Hillsboro. This most recent coverage dealt with the family’s wrongful death lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed in circuit court here in Portland, alleged failures by many people and groups, including the school district, the city of Hillsboro, and the manufacturer of the pool’s cover.

The lawsuit indicated that, on the day of the girl’s death, her team’s coach instructed her and some teammates to grab a pool cover, swim with it to the deep end of the pool, then swim back to the shallow end while beneath the cover.

The other swimmers resurfaced but failed to notice that their teammate did not. They “continued to cover the pool and left with their coaches,” even turning the lights off, according to the complaint.

There can be a lot to “unpack” in the facts of a case, like this one, where multiple people and/or entities were in a position of owing the victim a legal duty… and allegedly fell short.

Indirect and Direct Liability for an Employer

Under Oregon law, an employer can, in many circumstances, be indirectly (or “vicariously”) liable for the negligent acts of their employees if those acts occurred “during the scope and course of employment.” This legal concept is called “respondeat superior.”

Employers, however, may also possibly have direct liability arising from the negligent errors their employees made. If, for example, an employer provided an employee with no supervision or with supervision that it knew (or reasonably should have known) was insufficient, the law permits a direct liability claim for “negligent supervision.” If an injury occurred because an employer provided an employee with no training or with training that it knew (or reasonably should have known) was inadequate, then the law recognizes a claim for negligent training.

In this case, that employer was the City of Hillsboro. The family alleged that the city and its parks and recreation department were negligent by “not having lifeguards on duty” and “not training employees on how to safely cover the pool.”

Injuries That Are the Result of Human Negligence and Defective Products

In still other cases, the fatal injury may be the result of not just people failing to do what they should, but also things failing to function correctly. When that happens, the law permits a claim for product liability. In that type of claim, you need evidence that the product had some sort of flaw that made it unreasonably dangerous. In a product liability claim against a manufacturer (as this case is), your arguments focus on establishing that the product was manufactured in a way that made it defective and unreasonably dangerous.

Of course, a lot of child drowning cases involve private, not public pools. In those cases, the child’s family may have a premises liability cause of action under the legal theory of “attractive nuisance” if the pool’s owner failed to erect adequate barriers around the pool to prevent children from accessing it.

Not every injury case is as simple as one private citizen injuring another private citizen through individual acts of negligence. When the accident that claimed the life of your child was the culmination of multiple flaws and mistakes by multiple people and entities at multiple junctures, you need a skillful legal team to parse through all the facts, all the potential causes of action, and all the potentially responsible parties. Count on the thoughtful and diligent Oregon wrongful death attorneys at Kaplan Law LLC to be that sort of advocate for your family. Attorney Matthew D. Kaplan has extensive experience in child-victim accidents and wrongful death cases. Call us today at (503) 226-3844 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email:
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