Appeal hearing held in sledding death lawsuit

Becky Vargo • Aug 2, 2017 at 11:00 AM

Apparently it’s not over until it’s over.

A hearing on a consolidated series of lawsuits filed in the 2009 sledding death of an 11-year-old Nunica boy was held Tuesday in the Michigan Court of Appeals in Grand Rapids. 

This is the second time the attorneys representing the estate of Chance Aaron Nash have brought the case back to this court.

Nash died Dec. 31, 2009, after crashing into a branch of a downed tree on the backside of a hill while sledding at Duncan Memorial Park in Grand Haven.

In 2014, the state appeals court remanded the cases back to Ottawa County Circuit Court, reversing a decision by Judge Jon Hulsing to dismiss them.

Sitting judges Joel P. Hoekstra, William B. Murphy and Kristen Frank Kelly will now consider arguments presented by attorneys on all sides. The sides include the estate v. the Duncan Park Commission, the Duncan Park Trust (and trustees at the time: Ed Lystra, Rodney Griswold and Jerry Scott) and former park caretaker Bob DeHare. 

John Tallman, attorney for the Chance Nash estate, said it could take a month or more before the appeals court releases an opinion.

Tallman filed a lawsuit for the family, citing negligence, in 2010. The lawsuit claimed that the park property was not maintained properly.

Attorney Mark Granzotto, an appeal attorney representing the Nash estate, said that the area on which the child was sledding was clearly a trail used by the public and that the tree at the bottom should have been properly removed, or the branch left extended so that it was visible to those using the hill.

Gregory Longworth, the attorney hired by the City of Grand Haven to represent DeHare, described the park to the judges, noting the area where children normally slide is on the parking lot side of the hill.

Longworth emphasized that DeHare was hired to remove downed trees only from the parking lot and trail areas. The ravine where Nash was sliding was not such a trail, he said.

Information on liability, governmental immunity and whether or not the city should have taken over as primary trustee of the private park was also at issue.

The original lawsuit was filed in 2010 against the Duncan Park Commission. A lawsuit was filed against the trustees in 2012 and, more recently, one was filed against DeHare.

Hulsing dismissed the original lawsuits in 2012, but Tallman filed appeals for his clients, and the state appeals court consolidated the cases in 2013.

The appeals court decision of March 2014 said the park commission could not invoke governmental immunity and sent the case back to Ottawa County Circuit Court.

In November 2015, the groups held a settlement conference, but were unable to reach an agreement.

A trial was set for early 2016, but it was postponed pending a petition in probate court to have successor trustees named to the Duncan Park Trust. The original trustees resigned and were supposed to appoint new trustees, but couldn’t get anyone to step in with the court cases pending.

In early 2016, Probate Judge Mark Feyen approved the city’s request to become the sole trustee. 

In February 2016, Hulsing again dismissed the lawsuits saying that the defendants were not liable for the death of Chance Nash.

Tuesday’s hearing was the result of the most recent appeal filed.

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