After five days of wrenching testimony about the drowning death of a 5-year-old boy at Crofton Country Club, an Anne Arundel County jury awarded his parents more than $4 million in damages yesterday.
Hunt Valley-based DRD Pool Service Inc., the club's pool management company, was found negligent for failing to adequately train its lifeguards and properly staff the pool. It was ordered to pay Thomas Freed and Debra Neagle Webber $2,000,076 each - the 76 dollars serving as a symbol of Connor Freed's birthday, which was July 6.
At a news conference yesterday, Connor's parents, who had filed the wrongful-death lawsuit, expressed relief that the trial was over, a sense of satisfaction with the jury's ruling and a determination to ensure that their son's death would not be in vain.
"Just hearing that the jury thought that DRD was negligent, it definitely helped us out," said Thomas Freed, who was flanked by family members including Connor's sister, Brittany Webber, 17. "To hear that verdict, it took a load off our shoulders."
DRD's lawyer, Steven R. Migdal, could not be reached for comment.
A 16-year-old lifeguard, who had been on the job for three weeks, was on duty when Connor was found floating in the country club's outdoor pool about 4:30 p.m. June 22, 2006. He had been swimming at the pool with a family friend, Paul Carroll, then 36, and two other children.
Connor was taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center, where he died.
The jury did not award a judgment against Carroll, a car salesman who was also named in the suit and represented himself at trial.
The parents' attorneys, Gary A. Wais and H. Briggs Bedigian, said yesterday they are considering appeals in the case on two issues. A state law caps jury awards in wrongful-death cases at $1.3 million, meaning the judgment awarded by the jury would be significantly decreased if not challenged. Secondly, a motion seeking judgment for pain and suffering on Connor's part was dismissed.
"This company has an attitude that they don't have any responsibility at all to safeguard children's lives in a pool," Bedigian said.
Meanwhile, Connor's parents - who have set up a foundation, Connor Cares, to honor their son - said they are working with lawmakers to create uniformity in safety requirements at public pools.
They would also like to see more stringent rules because, for example, in Anne Arundel County, just one lifeguard is required for every 50 swimmers. They are calling for legislation that would decrease that ratio to one lifeguard per 25 swimmers.