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City not responsible for Coney Island drowning, Brooklyn Court rules

October 28, 2014 By Charisma L. Troiano, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Court located at 45 Monroe Place. Photo by Don Evans
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 New York City provided sufficiently trained lifeguards on Coney Island beach and cannot be held liable for the 2008 drowning of a 10-year-old girl, a Brooklyn Appellate Court has ruled.

“[The] city is not an insurer of the safety of the users of its parks, including its beaches…,” a unanimous panel noted in the opinion of the Appellate Division, Second Department.

 On July 26, 2008, Akira Johnson, 10, and her cousin, Tyriek Currie, 10, were in the water together off the beach at Coney Island. The two children lost their footing, and a nearby lifeguards noticed and rushed to their aid. Unfortunately only Currie was able to be saved. Johnson’s body washed ashore a few days later. 

The family filed a wrongful death suit against the city with claims of negligence. A lower court judge found merit in the family’s suit and allowed the case to proceed. The higher appeals court, however, acknowledged the city’s responsibility to its park users, but held that the city’s lifeguards did not deviate from its public safety obligations. 

Evidence showed that the city “had furnished a sufficient number of lifeguards, that those lifeguards were experienced and competent…that they were adequately trained and properly certified… and that they reacted to the situation in accordance with proper procedure,” the appeals court noted 

Johnson’s family argued that while there may have been plenty of trained lifeguards, the type of training received was inadequate to insure proper safety for beach users.

“Basically, they are trained in swimming pool rescues,” attorney Arnold E. DiJoseph said in an interview with the New York Law Journal. 

The city acknowledged that better training is a necessity. “That’s true of every city employee, even the lawyers,” said Michael Shender of the New York City Law Department. “But there were more than the required number of lifeguards at that beach and they were trained and certified according to Red Cross standards.”

Justices Ruth Balkin, John Leventhal, Joseph Maltese and Betsy Barros sat on the appellate panel.

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