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San Jose parents file wrongful death suit against family friend

Posted on in Wrongful Death

When you send your child off for some fun away from home, whom do you hold responsible if something goes wrong? That was the central issue in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of a San Jose, California, boy who died during a trip to Alaska.

The parents of the 12-year-old were at first concerned about the trip two summers ago, but decided to allow him to go with a trusted family friend. Unfortunately, the boy died in an SUV operated by a drunk driver who made a wrong turn and drove straight into a river. The driver, who escaped the vehicle unharmed along with two other passengers, pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, DUI and failure to insure his vehicle, and was sentenced to prison.

But the parents didn't place all the blame on the driver. They held their friend responsible for their son's death, which happened after a bonfire party where all of the adults drank, smoked marijuana and fired guns, according to police and court documents. Sometime after midnight the group split up into two vehicles. The family friend said he put the boy in the SUV with another driver because with intermittent rain, he thought the boy would be more comfortable than in the friend's pickup truck. Hours after the fatal crash into the river, the driver of the SUV registered a blood alcohol level of .083, just over the legal driving limit.

The boy's parents said their friend lied to them about the circumstances from the start, first saying the accident had been caused by a mudslide. They didn't know drunk driving was involved until they traveled to Alaska themselves and spoke with state troopers. They ultimately filed a wrongful-death suit against him, which resulted in a $1 million settlement -- the maximum amount covered on the man's home insurance policy. The family received the settlement this month.

As the prosecutor in the drunk driver's sentencing hearing said, at least one of the adults should have stayed sober to ensure the children present were in safe hands. If it were up to the parents, that adult would have been the one who assured them their son would be safe in his care.

Source: MercuryNews.com, "San Jose: Family receives $1 million settlement in son's death in Alaska," Mark Gomez, Dec. 12, 2011

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