Sledding death lawsuit cleared for court

Four years after 11-year-old Chance Nash died from injuries sustained when his sled ran into a snow-covered stump at Duncan Woods, his family’s wrongful death claim is gaining momentum.
Tribune Staff
Mar 21, 2014

Three Michigan Court of Appeals judges have cleared a path for a lawsuit to move forward against the Duncan Park Commission and Trust.

The judges overturned Circuit Court Judge Jon Hulsing’s earlier decisions to dismiss the claims. Hulsing considered the park as being under the City of Grand Haven’s umbrella and therefore immune to liability for the boy’s death.

Appellate Judges Elizabeth Gleicher, William Whitbeck and Joel Hoekstra scrutinized the Duncan Park Commission and Trust documents dating back 100 years and determined that “the document created a trust which conveyed legal ownership of the land to three trustees rather than to the City.”

“Because the Commission is a private organization empowered by the trust to manage the park without any governmental oversight, we hold that it may not invoke governmental immunity to avoid liability for Chance’s death,” the ruling, issued Thursday, states.

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Read the ruling from the Circuit Court by clicking on the document attached below this story

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The Nash family’s series of wrongful death lawsuits – which claim, in part, that the Duncan Woods Commission had the responsibility to maintain what is known as a popular sledding area in Grand Haven – started in November 2010 against the park’s commission and trust.

The park commissioners at the time – Ed Lystra, Jerry Scott and Rodney Griswold – said that the boy was not injured on one of the park’s normal sledding areas off Woodlawn Avenue or by the park’s picnic area, but instead in a more heavily wooded area of the park.

An additional lawsuit was filed in April 2012 against the trust and the three trustees individually, with a later move to add the part-time groundskeeper of Duncan Woods, Robert DeHare, as a defendant in the case.

The first two lawsuits were denied by Hulsing, primarily on the basis of government immunity, and the claim against DeHare was set aside awaiting an appellate decision about the park’s right to government immunity.

When reached by phone Friday afternoon, Greg Longworth, an attorney handling the cases for the park and its officials, said he was unaware of the appellate decision and would not “be in a position” to comment after he reads the decision.

“So… no comment,” he said.

John Tallman, the attorney for the Nash family, was in court Friday and didn’t return a message left at his office.

 

Comments

fourboys66

I do not agree with this lawsuit at all. While this is a terrible accident that happened to this family,to blame trustees and a part time groundskeeper for this accident is ridiculous. I don't know what the family is going through, but I am not on thier side at all. I may get comments for saying this, but once again, another lawsuit that should never have been filed.

Momof2

I don't understand the family's reasoning for this. Nothing is going to bring their child back. It was a terrible accident, and in order to heal they need to move on and remember their son in positive ways. This is just prolonging their grief. Something good and positive should come of this. Look at the Beach Survival Challenge. A mother lost her son and now she keeps him alive by educating others on the dangers of rip currents and how to be safe in the water. I truly hope they find peace.

Madmax12

So disgraceful and selfish that the parents continue to want to blame anyone or anything for the loss of their child except for themselves. Why wasn't a parent close enough to prevent this child from heading in the direction he was? The obvious answer is that there was no way they would of known, the exact same answer that the city, the commissioners, and the ground keepers would've known or could've prevented. Disgraceful because of the blame and guilt that these two desperate parents, and their attorney, are trying to impose on other individuals, including the citizens of our entire community. What do they hope to gain? Future children will continue to be children and will take unknown risk on the next snow covered hill. Is it the $$? I hope not, but I'm afraid that this is what it's turned into. I'm willing to be part of a counter lawsuit against these parents for failure not to protect their child. This makes far more sense then going after others instead, especially when the parents are the only ones who have been negligence here. Oh, and I would sue their attorney for not advising the parents to keep their child off that hill.

beachguy

Completely agree. Let's sue the people responsible for putting the child in harms way to begin with. Oh wait...Mom and Dad might not like that idea. Terrible loss to be sure. But give me a break, the only person that will benefit is the lawyer. Imagine that.

GHPuzzler

I typed a big, long paragraph, but then decided a simple sentence says it all; These parents must be blinded by either incredible guilt or incredible greed.

ghresident

Another frivolous lawsuit, its the Park Commissions fault a stump was there? There's stumps all over in the woods, he wasn't in a normal sledding area. Who's fault is that? The parents should file a lawsuit against themselves for lack of common sense.

Yes I feel bad they lost their son, but its called an accident....

jenkem

This is just another example of how ridiculous the justice system is. I don't know who is stupider in this case, the parents for allowing their son to sled in a dangerous area and then suing the city, or the courts for allowing the case to actually proceed!The spot he was sledding at was in no way intended to be used as a sledding hill. The parents are right in that the hill was unsafe and the city did not maintain it, but that's because it wasn't a fricking sledding hill in the first place!!! This is like saying it would be the city's fault if I rode my skateboard down 5 mile hill and hit a tree and died. Of course doing that would be incredibly unsafe, but you aren't meant to skate down 5 mile hill, you are supposed to skate in the city maintained and designated skate park!

Creedance

It's getting pretty hard to feel sorry for this family anymore. All this is going to do is end up closing Duncan's Woods in the Winter.

mlouiswolf

sledding, skiing, etc are inherently dangerous activities. My daughters could have been killed one afternoon in Duncan woods as well, when a large limb blew down and came within 15 feet of hitting them. I've never thought, "boy, if that branch had killed them I'd have sued the city..." I just counted my blessings and been more careful about walking in the woods during high winds.

thecatsmom

Very sad,but it was an accident. No way is the city responsible.
Some lawyer has convinced these parents that blaming someone and receiving damages will help them deal with their loss. I am afraid it will just make it worse for them. I hope they can find a way to celebrate their sons life and not chase retribution.

ninja660

I could see if the groundskeeper had just planted the stump there for the kid to run into - but this kind of court case clogs the system for real cases. Are they going to sue Mother Nature for an act of God? The tree died, and the stump is left to rot for other natural causes/uses like squirrels to bury their nuts in come fall, and maybe a bird to put a home in. It's too bad the stump didn't have eyes so it could move out of the way of the kid on the sled that didn't see it in time to bail off the sled. The park was not intended to be for sledding - if that was the case, it would be marked as a sliding area. Look at Sonny Bono - he was out skiing and hit a tree, did his family sue the ski area for parking a tree where he hit - don't think so - there are things that we cannot control and pulling every stump so a kid can go sliding is absolutely insane! Leave it to the courts in Michigan to say that this case can progress. This is sheer nonsense what do they intend to get from suing a tree - more pinecones or needles or a free Christmas tree every year?

lazy greyhounds

So what happens if the slimeball lawyer succeeds in suing the trust, will Duncan woods be completely deforested so that no more children or adults can be injured? Duncan Dunes has such a bad ring to it. I'm also ready to jump on the "sue the parents" band wagon if this pointless lawsuit continues ahead. As many of you here have said... accidents happen. Nobody is directly responsible for young Nash's death; a bad choice of where to sled is what happened.

Vladtheimp

Maybe, to assuage the parents and pay them and their lawyer, in the even of a large judgment against the Trustees, which would not be covered by insurance, the Trustees will transfer Duncan Woods to the plaintiffs. They in turn can sell it to the developers of Grand Landing, or alternatively turn it into a deer sanctuary; hopefully, PETA has not yet developed a legal theory that would let the deer sue if they stumble over a downed tree or branch.

dgmarvin

This is an emotional appeal the attorneys are hoping to win. Looks like parents could be scheming for most plausible way to recoup their monetary losses of having to clean up the mess their dear child created. Why was this kid sporting off the main sled runs? He took the risk and unfortunately didn't turn out good for him or his family. Should this suit be won watch for this winter recreational area to be roped off and shut down because then it will have become an instant liability for Grand Haven, leaving the community with a huge black eye for not a really good reason.

Zegota

It is sad and terrible that this accident happen, but one's own accountability must come into play. Financial gains will not bring anyone back, nor will it change things but it will most likely close the park for winter activities. For many years it was open, and free, now after the lawyer has his day and his way, it will end. I am sorry for the lost, and I pray for you to find Peace and Comfort, Amen.

MeanSmith

American Greed.

TooMuch

A jury trial in Ottawa County which includes most of people like all of you probably means a judgment of "no cause". Even though they have won the right to sue does not give them a Judgment. Only a Judge or Jury can do that. Typically Ottawa County is very reserved. I don't see that changing any time soon. Unless there are some unknown facts, I doubt these parents will ever see a substantial amount of money for their loss unless it is through settlement negotiations.

DougMacdonnell

The parents dropped their child off and went to a local bar for several hours with absolutely no regard for the safety of their child. Duncan Woods is a make-shift sledding area which means enjoy your day at your own risk. Also, keep in mind that the child was found on the OTHER side of the park, way off the beaten path. He was being a typical adventurous child which ended in tragedy. Blaming the grounds keeper for a stump that was nowhere near the main sledding area...? C'mon...

momofthreeboys

It's a ridiculous attempt to shift blame. Someone needs to get that lawyer away from that family and instead get that family into counseling. I highly doubt they are going to want their parenting skills main stage which is what it would come down to if it actually gets to trial.

Retired FireRescue

We will never understand God's will, which I believe is responsible for so many accidential deaths. A greedy lawyer, feeding on the grief of these parents is why so many look at attorney's as blood suckers. Martha Duncan gave every citizen of the tri-cities a huge gift and I grew up walking to school at Mary A White through Duncan Woods everyday with my friends and enjoyed this gift of Martha's more than most. Think what would be there now if she had sold it instead of setting up a trust in honor of her husband. Most of us as kids took risks that if we found out our own children took would blow our top. Am I not correct? I think these parents need to dump this Attorney and talk with the park trustee's about honoring their son with a plaque and getting a group together to post signs of the dangers of sledding off main hills. I will pray for Chance's parents, but they need to know their son was so remarkable that God wanted him by his side.

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