ELYRIA — The family of a 13-year-old boy who drowned in the Black River after falling off the Riverwalk can proceed with a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, an appeals court ruled Monday.
Lawyers representing the city’s insurance company had argued that the city enjoyed what is known in legal terms as sovereign immunity in the death of Logan Spradlin and now-retired Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Edward Zaleski had agreed.
But the 9th District Court of Appeals wrote in its decision that because the lawsuit argued that Spradlin died because of defects in the Riverwalk caused by the city’s negligence, the city couldn’t claim immunity. The appeals court wrote that it had to consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the Spradlin family.
Jonathan Tsilimos, the family’s lawyer, said that negligence is one of the few exceptions to the immunity laws that typically protect government entities from being sued.
“You have very specific circumstances under which you can sue them,” he said.
Logan and a friend were playing at the $600,000 Riverwalk, completed in 2003, when Logan climbed over the fence and onto a small ledge on the other side on Oct. 10, 2009. He then made his way onto a set of stone steps that used to be part of an old mill before slipping and falling onto the rocks below.
He then went over the East Falls and plunged into the water below, where he was later found dead.
Tsilimos said the city should have been aware that the ledge on the river side of the fence, coupled with the stone steps, presented a tempting place for children to play.
Elyria Law Director Scott Serazin said just because the lawsuit can proceed doesn’t mean the city has lost. He said the two sides will now examine the evidence in the case.
“It doesn’t mean there’s negligence on the city’s part,” Serazin said.
The decision that was reversed by the appeals court Monday was the second time Zaleski had thrown out the lawsuit against the city because of immunity.
After the first decision, the Spradlin family settled with two contractors who had worked on the project and dropped the lawsuit against the city before refiling it last year. Tsilimos said at the time that the family couldn’t appeal the decision removing the city from the case while there were other defendants.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.