Trial postponed in 2009 sledding death lawsuit

Becky Vargo • Dec 23, 2015 at 1:00 PM

A trial in February 2016 may have brought long-awaited closure for a 2009 fatal sledding accident in Grand Haven, but attorneys involved in the associated lawsuits agree they need more time to prepare.

Ottawa County Circuit Judge Jon Hulsing postponed the trial for 60-90 days after hearing motions regarding the case on Monday.

The lawsuits filed on behalf of Diane Nash and the estate of Chance Nash accuse the defendants of not properly maintaining the grounds of Duncan Memorial Park, where Chance Nash was sledding right before his death on Dec. 31, 2009. The 11-year-old boy died from injuries he suffered after running into a snow-covered stump at the park.

Lawsuits were filed against the Duncan Park Commission in 2010; the Duncan Park Trust including representatives Ed Lystra, Rodney Griswold and Jerry Scott in 2012; and former park caretaker Bob DeHare.

Hulsing dismissed the original lawsuits in early 2012, noting that the park commission and the trust did not own the park.

Attorney John Tallman filed appeals for his clients.  The Michigan Court of Appeals consolidated the lawsuits in January 2013.

Hulsing set aside the lawsuit against DeHare until a determination was made on the appeals.

The appeals court decision made in March 2014 says the park commission could not invoke governmental immunity and sent the lawsuits back to Hulsing’s court.

The question, according to the state appeals court, comes down to “who owns Duncan Park?”

In June, Tallman asked for a change in the judge on the case, but that request was denied.

In November, the groups held a settlement conference, but were unable to reach an agreement. Settlement amounts proposed were not revealed.

On Monday, the defendant’s attorney, Cindy Merry, asked the judge not to allow new witnesses being called by the plaintiff, but that request was denied. Hulsing said the plaintiff met proper timelines with the witnesses.

The next related motion is scheduled for Jan. 4. Tallman said he was filing a motion to hold off a trial until a ruling was made on a related case in probate court. He declined to say what the case was about.

On Jan. 18, the court is scheduled to hear a motion filed by Merry to dismiss the case.

Hulsing said once the hearings have been completed, they will schedule a new trial date, if needed.

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