Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

 
 

Borough responds to drowning suit

 


In response to a lawsuit brought by the parents of a drowned boy, the Haines Borough denied it had “any legal duty” to maintain the area around the Port Chilkoot Dock for use by swimmers or divers.

The borough asks the court to dismiss the case and to change the trial venue to Haines.

Larry and Chetra Williamson filed the suit in Juneau Superior Court May 23, seeking more than $1 million in damages. Their 14-year-old son, Andrew Williamson, drowned while attempting to swim with friends to the dock’s lightering float on Saturday, May 29, 2010.

The Williamsons contend the borough was negligent for not posting hazard signs at the popular swimming beach and taking other safety measures.

Attorneys representing the borough responded June 12. While acknowledging that people swim around the dock, they challenged the suit’s description of land there as a “public beach.”

“The (borough) has never established a public beach in that area and does not operate a public beach in that area,” wrote attorney Greg Henrikson of Walker and Eakes, the firm representing the borough.

The area around the docks includes property owned by others not named in the suit, Henrikson wrote.

The borough also wrote that at the time of Williamson’s death, the lightering float was in use by Haines-Skagway Fast Ferry. The Williamsons have since amended their suit to include the fast ferry as a defendant.

Borough attorneys admit the borough knew some people were swimming out to the lightering float before the accident occurred, and that there was no lifeguard post established or life preservers around the dock when the drowning occurred.

They also acknowledge the borough didn’t post warning signs or “no swimming signs” in the area, that it was aware people jumped from the trestle and lightering float and that they swam from the shore in the area of the dock.

“(The borough) admits that its police department had received calls regarding individuals jumping from the trestles. This activity was not illegal, and the issue of whether it should be made illegal was the subject of planning-level political debate,” Henrikson wrote. “The borough denies that it received calls complaining of individual swimming from the shore of Lynn Canal near the dock to the lightering float.”

The borough also denied any legal duty to post signs or life-saving equipment there, or to provide lifeguards.

Henrikson said the Williamsons’ suit “fails as a matter of law to establish any legal basis upon which (the borough) could be liable for the death” and that the Williamsons’ damages were caused by Andrew’s or their own negligence.

A scheduling conference is set for July 31.