2nd lawsuit over sledding death dismissed

Duncan Memorial Park groundskeeper named as defendant in new lawsuit claiming negligence in 2009 sledding death of Nunica boy.
Alex Doty
Dec 28, 2012

A second lawsuit filed against the Duncan Park Trust and its trustees in response to a 2009 sledding death of a Nunica boy has been dismissed by Ottawa County Circuit Judge Jon Hulsing.

“We’re disappointed with the circuit judge’s ruling,” said the Nash family's attorney, John Tallman. “Suffice it to say, I think that he erred.”

A lawsuit filed in January 2011 against the park trustees and the City of Grand Haven was also dismissed by Hulsing. In his ruling on that suit in January of this year, the judge said the park's commission was a government entity, under the city, making it immune from civil action.

The latest lawsuit was filed in April and asked for more than $25,000 in damages and a jury trial. It claimed negligence by the park trustees in allowing sledding in Duncan Memorial Park, which is northwest of Lake Forest Cemetery with a main entrance off Sheldon Road.

Park trustees Ed Lystra, Rodney Griswold and Jerry Scott were named in the suit. It claimed that they were negligent in maintaining the grounds.

In an eight-page opinion released Dec. 17, Hulsing said the Duncan Park Trust as indicated in the lawsuit didn’t exist, and the three trustees “as individuals have no authority or control of Duncan Park. It is only the (Duncan Park Commission) through its commissioners, acting as commissioners, who would owe a duty of reasonable care.”

Hulsing also reiterated a ruling he made in the previous case that the park’s commission, as a government entity under the city, was immune from being sued.

To see the judge's ruling document, click the Related File below.

The earlier lawsuit claimed that the park commission breached its duties in maintaining the park in general, and the sledding hill in particular, “in a reasonably safe condition for use by children and the other members of the public for sledding."

The suit claimed that it was the commission’s responsibility to remove dead trees and branches from the area “on or near the sledding hills.”

Chance Nash, 11, was sledding with family members in the park on Dec. 31, 2009, when he struck a branch of a fallen tree. He died later at a hospital from internal injuries.

Lystra said that while he had no comment about the lawsuits, he said he feels bad about what happened in 2009.

“Like everyone else, we’re heartsick that we lost that little boy,” he said.

Lystra noted that there are misconceptions regarding the incident and where it happened.

“I’ve run into people who think that it occurred on the sledding hill and he ran into a pylon by the parking lot,” the retired attorney and former Grand Haven mayor said. “This boy actually hit a fallen branch when sledding down a steep gulley away from the usual sledding area. His father was with him at the time.”

Lystra said there are two areas typically used for sledding — an area along Woodlawn Avenue and the park's picnic area — neither of which were where the fatal crash occurred.

Tallman said they will consider fighting Hulsing's latest ruling.

The Nash family's attorney said there is already an appeal pending with the first case, and his office is now working on submitting paperwork to appeal the recently dismissed case.

“We’re going to ask that the two appeals cases be consolidated,” Tallman said. “We’re hoping that it won’t take long and that we’ll be back in court in Grand Haven before too long.”

The park's groundskeeper, Robert L. DeHare, was served a summons on Thursday in a new case against him regarding the incident.

Like the previously dismissed suits, the lawsuit against DeHare asks for more than $25,000 in damages. It claims negligence by DeHare in allowing sledding at the park and for not removing dead branches from commonly used sledding areas.

“I am very concerned that I am being sued,” said DeHare, 71. “I said to my wife, ‘If they attempt to pursue this further, the only other person they could sue is myself, the person who cuts the grass.”

DeHare, who has been a part-time worker at the park since 2003, said he only does what the park trustees tell him. He said he does perform emergency maintenance tasks.

DeHare said that he is concerned about legal representation in the case, and plans to talk with the city to see if he would be covered.

“If you represent yourself, you have a fool for a client,” DeHare said. “If the city or insurance company doesn’t represent me, I am out of luck.”

Lystra said he is “dumbfounded” and “speechless” regarding the latest lawsuit against DeHare.

“He does what we ask him to do over there," Lystra said. "I just can’t express my anger that they’re trying to sue our groundskeeper.”

To see the official lawsuit document filed against Bob DeHare, click the Related File below.

Comments

pike84

Look at the picture of that hill? His father let him go down it? Hmmm I think the blame is being misplaced.

ohreally

Someone is looking for a quick buck here. This is honestly stupid...a part time groundskeeper really?!? What a waste of court system time and money. I'm truly saddened by the lost of such a young child, but come on there is no reason for this lawsuit. It was an ACCIDENT and in my personal opinion the fault of the parent if someone is so intent on placing blame. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but is there even a designated sledding area at Duncan's Woods? When I was a kid, my friends and I would find a spot that looked good and sled down it, one of my friends broke her leg while sledding but guess what...NO LAWSUIT! This just needs to stop...it's no longer about the boy who lost his life and that's sad.

rukidding

The loss of Chance, very very sad; attempting to place blame by the parents, very sad. John Tallman, you are not doing justice to this boys memory by confirming to his parents that this is a wrongful death and not just an accident.

GH Citizen

I was actually sledding with friends in the same as where Chance's incident occurred and even recall seeing the boy in the area, at the time I didn't see any of his family nearby. This was not the "Sledding" hill but the hill by the parking lot. We had actually left just a mere 15 minutes before the event happened. Why you would try multiple attempts at a lawsuit is beyond me. Sometimes things just happen, blaming negligence is irresponsible. Is North Ottawa going to be the next target for not escalating his injuries sooner to Spectrum? Let Chance be known for more than a failed lawsuit attempt.

Grand Haven Happy

How insane can the dead boy's parents be? It was THEM who allowed their son to sled down that hill or any hill for that mater as they are the "parents" and brought him to Duncan Park in the first place. Where's your parenting skills and sense of responsibility anyway? Don't you two as parents feel guilty for YOUR creating the possibility of any harm to your son in the first place? Your money grabbing suits only make you look even more stupid and immensly cheaper! You must be very irresponsible at parenting and/or making good and/or safe choices for your son as it's YOU who made any and all of the decisions! I'd even like to see the people you have sued be given full compensation from you for the grief and cost incurred that you sick morons have caused. Yes, I do feel sorry for the loss of your son but it's solely on your shoulders!

Creedance

This is a very sad story, but if anyone is to blame, it's the parents and they need to realize that. If anything, they should sue their lawyer for trying to keep pursuing this and drag it on more than it should be. He is really making this family look greedy now.

curious_in_SL

I am so very disgusted by the thought of this lawsuit against a PT groundskeeper. If brought to court, I'd love to have the opportunity to stand in front of the courthouse with a sign in support of this man. The front of their house at Christmas time, with the enormous peace sign with Chance's name is obvious that healing is still a work in progress. My heart goes out to them but allow family, friends and even the faith community assist you through the loss....not a courthouse and a hungry attorney.

common cents

It is sad to see the family so hurt. Wish they could try and be more like the Fox family. Spend time and money to educate others and remember the lost one.

GrandHavenJohn

I feel really bad for the loss suffered by the Nash family. But this lawsuit is represents everything that's wrong with our society. Cashing in on tragedy is one of America's favorite ways to make money for doing nothing these days; individuals, media, lawyers. Where did our dignity go?

Vladtheimp

Yes, the child's death is a tragedy and yes, the parent's grief and anger are undoubtedly driven, at least in part and maybe subconsciously by their knowledge that the ultimate responsibility in bringing the boy to the Park, and permitting him to sled down that particular slope, is theirs.

However, in my view it is absolutely unconscionable (1) for the attorney to file suit based on an allegation that a part time Park employee was responsible for this accident, and (2) for the City to apparently permit their part-time groundskeeper to twist slowly in the wind not knowing if the City would step up and provide for his legal representation.

Yes, every attorney will include every person or entity owing a duty to his or her client in a tort action, but is it reasonable to assume that if the Duncan Park Commission is a political subdivision of the City, and thus immune from suit, and the Commissioners are immune, that a part-time groundskeeper under their control is somehow liable? This strikes me as over-reaching and punitive.

By the same token, if the Commission and the Commissioners argued that they are immune from suit as a subdivision of the City of Grand Haven, and are obviously pleased by the ruling of the Court in reliance on their argument, why have they not re-assured Mr. DeHare that he will not have to bear the costs of litigation? Did the City pay for their representation? Do they pay him? Do they provide him benefits? If not, do they have a contract with him for his services? If so, does the contract identify specific duties, such as identifying areas to be used for sledding and clearing all dead limbs in those areas?

Unless Mr. DeHare is specifically an independent contractor, by contract, the City should step up for him. I imagine at this point he questions how his loyalty to the Duncan Park is being repaid.

brottk1

Honestly all of you can shut your mouth! There is mo need to leave nasty rude comments when none of you have any idea what your talking about. My father is the farthest thing from irresponsible he is an amazing dad much better then any of you probably are or have. This was my brother and this is my family. None of you have any right having any part in this or making up rude comments. You could never possibly understand anything unless it happened to you. So I suggest you all just shut up and get a real life

Creedance

I'm sorry this accident happened to somebody so close to you. I hope you're correct in saying we are misinformed. From the media, it looks like he was sledding in an unsafe area that has never been marked for sledding. The dune is listed as a natural area therefore activities done there are at risk of the natural environment. It also states, and a picture shows, that he was sledding in an area that was even further out of what the lawyer, not the park, deems as a sledding area. If there are other facts that people need to know in order to realize that maybe this isn't a frivolous lawsuit, please inform us.

Commonsense

Ummmm, yeah, suing a 71 year old grass cutter, how's the aluminum on your trailer?

Bradlee

I truly feel for you and your family. I hope you can someday find peace and closure. My sincerest condolences.

Walking Alive

Just pitiful, this Tallman ambulance chaser is a real piece of work. Responsibility for the child's safety lands squarely on the parents, but they want to blame ANYONE ELSE! Look in the mirror instead of pointing fingers. A 71 year old PT groundskeeper? Really? Exactly where were the parents when this happened?
And why is the city not stepping up for Mr. DeHare? Can the city counter-sue the Nash's to recoup their lawyer fees? Sue-happy society. $$$$

Zegota

In many cases it takes a long time for an individual to deal with such a personal lost. For a lost of life is personal and healing from the inside is very difficult at best, and this particular lawsuit is a beginning part of the healing process for the family. Finding and/or understanding the reason for such a lost is usually one of the steps, but again it is a personal process.
However it is time for the lawyer and the family to move on, and to the next step in the process of healing and forgiving. The forgiving part is going to be the hardest hurdle to jump but time and faith is on there side. The courts and the lawyers are not, and I pray that the family can find the peace they truly need. The lawsuits does no good, except to lengthen the family healing process. God Bless.

Wiseone

The majority of people commenting say that this is a frivolous lawsuit. They say that the family needs to move on.
Then a boy from the family voices his opinion... saying that people do not know what they are talking about.. that his dad is a good father.
I think that the father needs to take a step back and think things out. He is trying to sue anyone that he can to place blame on them. Two of the lawsuits have been dismissed. Now he is going after a 71 year old caretaker. The father needs to stop the blame game... and realize that he has children who have been SO affected by his son's death. The father needs to focus on helping them heal. I have seen the sign on the family's house for Chase. Instead of suing anyone that they could.. they should follow in Andy Fox's family's shoes. Make something good out of something tragic. It's time for Chase's parents to focus on their other children, and let the healing start. NO money will bring him back. His dad can not blame anyone else for his son sliding in a woods with trees.

Grandhavenmaven

Some lawyers feed into family grief by implying there can be solace and healing through litigation. Personal injury lawyers can be heroic but they can also promise false hope. This one was apparently reprimanded by the state not too long ago.....I hope the family considers his motives and reconsiders this course of action as it ultimately reflects poorly on them and on their judgment.

dyankee

“We’re disappointed with the circuit judge’s ruling,” said the Nash family's attorney, John Tallman. “Suffice it to say, I think that he erred.” So, John, you therefore, are stating that you have more intelligence than two judges and the majority of our community that agree with this decision? Anyone with a 6th grade education can clearly see the City is immune to lawsuits except, a grieving family that is trying to find peace and closure to a loss of a loved one. Here you are praying on this family like a bottom feeder that most p.i. lawyers are. We need a HB to address tort reform, at least in the State of Michigan. This case is another reason why tort reform is so over-due. @brottk1, EVERYONE on this post is willing to help pull the pain away from your family because we think of our own families and how easily it could have been one of us. Your father IS a good man, but so is Robert DeHare. Stop blaming and start healing by giving your hurt to God and celebrate your brother's life by honoring his legacy instead of litigating on behalf of it. May God Bless and carry your family during this time of great sorrow & pain. We all recgonize your unimaginable hurt and pray that you may find peace and comfort as time moves on.

Walking Alive

Please speak only for yourself when you write dyankee. You do not speak for "all" of us. I (and many others) don't pray to any non-existent god for these people. They need to buck-up and get on with their lives (they are alive). Three years of this crap and they are still looking for a scapegoat. They need to look in the mirror, forgive themselves and MOVE ON!

dyankee

Point taken. Likewise, please don't speak for "many others" when you write walking alive. You do not speak for all them.

Walking Alive

no honey, as Vlad says, I am Walking Alone on here. I am the only one I speak for. But, I am not the one who posted the words 'we all pray for you'. Only a religious phreak would make that statement. hahahahahahaha

steph34

We were at duncans woods that day sledding as well. This is very sad and tragic but I think it needs to be left alone so the family can move along it was a sad and tragic accident.

michiglen

We have to assume that Mr Tallman is taking care of this case "pro bono" so as not to exacerbate the suffering already endured by the family (and friends) of the deceased in relation to this tragedy.

Is there a way to verify this?

All US lawyers are recommended to perform at least 50 hours of "pro bono" work by the American Bar Association. A drawn out battle is one way to rack up those hours...

The irony all this is the real definition of "pro bono" - the full latin term is "pro bono publico" - "For the public good".

Mr Tallman, your pursuits do not seem to be for the good of anyone but yourself.

my2cents77

Blame is a hard word. I personally know the family involved and yes the grieving and moving forward has been slow going. And the lawsuit in a ways has drawn that out. But to blame one person either it be the father or p.t. lawn care person or the city is not only unjustifiable as it is just wrong. Why not blame the child then. Hypothetically speaking of course that is. No matter were the kid was sledding I know and I can bet half of all west Michigan kids that partake in winter sports look for that one sledding hill that has the jump. Has that risk of high fast flying downhill. This being said, why were there not measures takin by the city but the grounds crew by whom ever it would have taking to save the life of this child and prevent future problems like this.

I bet they are going to now. Then again maybe not because the city got a slap on the wrist. So before everyone saying they are sue happy looking for a fast dollar. Maybe should stop. Maybe they want a lil more than that. So this won't happen to a close friend of yours. Blame is a strong word.... But it does not fall directly on the father. It's collective. Yes the father could have said no. Yes the city could have cleaned up all possible sledding hills. Honestly I could go on and on with more and maybe one day I will but this is my two cents.

Creedance

That's a cute way to try to make this lawsuit okay. The day that Duncan's Woods is advertised as a sledding hill is the day they should begin cleaning it up. In the meantime, if common sense doesn't kick in when sledding in a forest, then the only person that can justifiably be held accountable is the person supervising. What would you be saying if the city worked diligently to clean up everyday yet the branch fell after the daily clean up duties? I bet you would want them to place a bunch of watchers in the woods to quickly catch the branch before it hits the ground. Sadly, you believe they are going to clean it now? Highly doubtful. What will probably happen is that the city will enforce no sledding in the park and this family and lawyer will be solely responsible for taking away this innocent and free family fun.

Wiseone

Very well said Creedance!

itsgettingold

It is not the Dad's fault the kid died. It was a sad tragic accident. It is the dad's fault that this nonsense continues. The Nash family has disgraced their own name. Stop with this non sense of trying to find someone to blame. I know it is hard to cope with but this is not helping. Your actions are disgusting.

imho

My sympathies for all those involved, especially Chance's young brother. I hope you have already stopped reading the comments. I am very sorry for the tragic loss. Blame needs to be put aside and some healing needs to begin. Nothing will bring him back, but there are measures that can be taken that will help preserve his memory in a more positive light. Loved ones need to urge the family to withdraw from legal pursuits. Clearly, the family is struggling with the grief, as would anyone in the situation. Perhaps a memorial in the woods might be a step in the right direction. The family needs to come to the understanding that Chance will not be forgotten because they stop pursuing legal results. The father needs to come to terms with his own guilt and put all blame aside. The family needs to have another source of energy to pull together and to pull them through their mourning. This must be an especially difficult time of year for them. Again, my sympathies to all those involved, including all the guiltless defendants. I will never forget you Chance. I think of you every year at this time. I have a boy your age and it was just a last minute decision to take our 4 boys to Pigeon Creek instead on that very day. Peace to all.

justsayin

I think the word "accident" says it all.....My condolences to the grieving family.

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