In the News

Jury Finds Club Responsible For Drowning, Awards $12.3 Million

By Christine Dempsey

WATERBURY – A jury on Thursday awarded $12.3 million to the family of a 5-year-girl who died two days after she was pulled from a pool during an after-school program at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Waterbury in 2008.

The girl’s mother, Retemar Robinson, said she hopes the verdict allows her family members – especially her son – to go on with their lives. The boy, then 7, tried to get his sister help and had to witness her drowning, according to the lawsuit.

“I’m just happy that he can also move on and get the help he needs,” Robinson said. “The verdict will not bring my daughter back.”

The award was divided three ways, according to the clerk’s office at Superior Court: $7.2 million to the estate of the girl, Brianna Murray; $5 million to her brother, Darnelle Richards, and $90,600 to Robinson for medical and funeral expenses.

Reading from a written statement, club President Brandon Dufour said the organization was saddened by Brianna’s death and made changes to improve safety afterwards.

“We were then, are now and forever will be saddened by the death of Brianna Murray. Since this incident in 2008, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Waterbury has made drastic changes to its policies, procedures and training programs to make sure that our Club provides the safest environment for our members and staff,” he said.

“Child protection and safety is the number one priority of the Boys & Girls Club, and it will continue to inform all decisions and practices implemented by our organization, to safeguard the precious young people we serve every day.”

“It an unfortunate verdict for a terrible accident,” Gregory A. Anderson, the lead defense lawyer in the case, said in an interview. “The Boys & Girls Club plans to appeal and stands by its position that nothing that we did or didn’t do caused the accident.

“Our hearts go out to the Robinson family. It was terrible that it happened and it was very unfortunate it ended up getting resolved like this. The Boys & Girls Club is going to continue to do it’s great work for the people of Greater Waterbury. ”

Kathleen Nastri and Bill Bloss of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder of Bridgeport represented the plaintiffs.

Testimony began Sept. 4.

According to the lawsuit filed in 2009, Brianna Murray died on June 11, 2008. Two days earlier, on June 9, she and her brother were participating in an after-school program at the club at 1037 East Main St.

About 4 p.m., the suit says, the only lifeguard “became aware that Brianna Murray became submerged.” She was pulled out of the water, and Boys & Girls Club employees tried to resuscitate the girl, who was brought to Waterbury Hospital.

The lawsuit said the club “failed to provide an adequate number of lifeguards to supervise the children in the pool” and failed to properly train the one who was working that day. It also says no one was checking to see how many children were using the pool at one time, and that the club “failed to test” their swimming abilities.

The lifeguard failed to scan the pool and wasn’t positioned properly so she’d have an unobstructed view, the suit says. Nastri said the lifeguard had street clothes on.

Darnelle suffered from “severe emotional distress” after he saw what happened to his sister, the lawsuit says.

Nastri said there was some finger-pointing at the plaintiffs during the trial and suggestions that they bore some responsibility for what happened.

“That was obviously a great weight on the mother through this trial, and the brother, who carried that tremendous guilt because he couldn’t save his sister that day,” she said.

Robinson said the verdict should make something clear to her son, who now is 14: “None of this is his fault.”