The family of 9-year-old Tommy Botell Jr., who watched the boy get crushed by a falling retaining wall at the Lassen Volcanic National Park, has settled with the federal government in the wrongful death case for $3.5 million. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Northern California family had taken a trip to the park in 2009. Tommy was sitting on a wall near a hiking trail with his sister when it collapsed. Sections of the wall fell on them as the two children tumbled about 30 feet and their parents struggled to grab them.
Tommy had cried out to his mother that he couldn’t see as he died in her arms, the report states. The wall had deteriorated and rolled over Tommy crushing his brain stem. U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory F. Hollows said park superintendent Delores Koontz did not repair the wall in spite of knowing that it was dangerous and then tried to cover up her mistakes after Tommy’s death. U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner issued a statement that the settlement agreement should not be construed as an admission of wrongdoing or fault on the part of park employees.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
According to California Civil Code Section 377.60, a wrongful death action is that which is brought “for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect or another.” A wrongful death case is a civil action that may be brought by immediate family members such as a parent, spouse or sibling. A wrongful death claim accomplishes two important things. It provides monetary compensation to the decedent’s family to cover damages and losses such as medical expenses, funeral costs, lost future income and loss of love and companionship. It also serves the critical purpose of righting a wrong and helping ensure that future tragedies are averted.
In this case, park employees had a responsibility to inspect various features and amenities in the park and ensure that they were in good working condition. In fact, case documents state that the park’s superintendent knew that the wall was dangerous, but failed to take any action to repair it or put up signs warning visitors about the dangerous condition. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Botell family. We hope that this settlement helps them move forward as they cherish Tommy’s memory, with the satisfaction that they played a role in righting a wrong.