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Okemos Special Needs Day Camp and officers are immune from liability for death of young man

Sean Glarner was participating in a swim session at the Okemos Special Needs Day Camp in 2008, when he died.  It turned out that he died as a combination of near-drowning and epilepsy.  His family filed suit against the Camp and several officers and employees, arguing that Sean's death was the result of negligence in design of the operations and in supervision of the special needs campers.  The Camp, an operation of the Okemos Public School System, sought summary disposition based on governmental immunity.

The family noted that the Camp idea originated with private individuals and was advertised as "self-supporting."  On that basis the family argued it was a proprietary function rather than a governmental function entitled to claim immunity.  The Court held that since the activity was authorized by the broad statute empowering school systems, it was a governmental function regardless of its profit status.  Since the family could not prove that producing a profit was the camp's primary purpose, it remained a governmental function. 

Lastly, the Court addressed the Camp staff's qualifications and actions.  The lifeguard on duty at the time of Sean's death was not certified for special needs children and did not know that Sean was an epileptic, and she was charged with supervising 36 campers at the pool.  The Camp staff had been advised that Sean had epilepsy, that water "shimmers" might induce epilepsy and that staff needed to "keep a close eye on him" when in the water.  It was disputed whether he was to receive one-on-one attention when in the water. 

The Court found  that these facts did not raise an argument of "gross negligence" in the Camp's operation.  On this basis, the judges overturned the trial judge's decision and dismissed the family's case.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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