Tuesday, April 15, 2008

City settles Janeway case


Nearly six years after 14-year-old Katie Janeway drowned during a city-sponsored summer camp for developmentally disabled children, the Santa Barbara City Council put an end to the legal marathon yesterday with a unanimous vote to pay the Janeway family a $2 million settlement.
The settlement arrived in the same week as the case’s long-awaited jury trial, which was scheduled to begin Monday. Before the case landed in Superior Court this time, it made its way through the Court of Appeals and California Supreme Court, and in both instances, the rulings were in favor of the Janeways.

Roland Wrinkle, a attorney based in Woodland Hills, Calif., who represented the Janeway family in the wrongful death suit against the city, said the case was never about the money, but was about getting the city to take responsibility for the death of a young girl — a death he said was caused by gross negligence on behalf of the city and one of its employees.
“This was about forcing the city, because they never wanted to do it, to take responsibility,” Wrinkle told the Daily Sound last night. “I don’t know why the city did what the city did. Personally I don’t think they should have put these people through it.”
He said the settlement is the largest of its kind ever issued in Santa Barbara County.
A prepared statement from Katie’s parents, Maureen and Terry Janeway, echoed Wrinkle's sentiments.
“While we are gratified by the long-awaited acknowledgement by the city and the city attorney that something did go wrong in our daughter’s tragic death, unfortunately there can be no actual court-provided remedy to eliminate the pain and anguish of Katie’s loss for her family and friends,” the statement says. “We miss her dearly every single day and we will certainly always grieve her needless loss.”
Santa Barbara City Attorney Steve Wiley said he couldn’t comment on the settlement until today due to a gag order issued by Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle last Tuesday.
At the crux of the case was the question of whether a waiver signed by Janeway’s mother exempted the city from responsibility in the face of gross negligence.
The Superior Court agreed with the lower courts that the waiver covered ordinary negligence, but not gross negligence.
After the Supreme Court ruled in July 2006, Wrinkle said the city had no place else to run.
At that point, “There’s no other place for them to go but to face a Santa Barbara County jury,” he said. “When that happened, finally, after all that happened, the City of Santa Barbara was forced to take some responsibility for it.”
Wrinkle said instead of taking responsibility immediately after Janeway’s death, the city took steps to ensure it wouldn’t be sued and insisted it did nothing wrong.
Janeway, who suffered from cerebral palsy, epilepsy and other disabilities, drowned July 25, 2002, while swimming at the Los Banos Pool as part of the city’s Adventure Camp, which she had participated in since 1990, according to court documents.
The lawsuit filed by the Janeways alleged their daughter’s death resulted from negligence on the part of the city and the camp counselor assigned to watch Janeway, Veronica Malong.
Malong had been assigned to keep a close eye on Janeway during the camp’s swimming sessions. On the camp’s second swimming day, court documents said Janeway jumped into the pool, Malong briefly turned away and when she looked back, the girl had disappeared. Five minutes later, lifeguards pulled Janeway from the bottom of the pool. She died the next day.
After the Supreme Court handed down its ruling, Wrinkle was quoted in a Daily Sound story as saying, “If you take those facts, I think it cries out for a ruling of gross negligence.”
Wrinkle said the Supreme Court’s ruling changed the law in California and goes a long way to ensure “that this will never happen to another mother and father’s child again.”
Wrinkle, who has argued several cases before the Supreme Court over his three decades of practicing law, said this case was different than most.
“This is a file that every time I picked it up my eyes would start to water because of what was involved and how the city responded to it,” he said.
As a result of the settlement, the Janeway’s said they will continue to provide for the needs of and disabled teens and adults in Katie’s honor through Katie’s FUNd.

No comments: