Corboy & Demetrio Secures $1.25 Million Settlement in Tragic Campground Accident

/ The Chicago law firm of Corboy & Demetrio secures a $1.25M settlement in the death of two young children who were camping with their family when a tree fell on their tent.

An Illinois family, whose two youngest children were killed when a tree fell on their tent while camping, has settled its lawsuit against the campground for $1.25 million, the family's lawyers announced Thursday.

The settlement was secured by Daniel M. Kotin of the Chicago law firm of Corboy & Demetrio and James Dowd of St. Louis on behalf of Jason and Christina Stuebs of Sherman, Illinois. The trial judge in St. Louis County, Missouri where the lawsuit had been filed approved the settlement.

Four-year-old Dustin Stuebs and 9-month-old Savannah Stuebs were killed as they slept with their family in tents at a Colona, Illinois campground during a severe thunderstorm in July 2008.

"This settlement was a great alternative to a jury trial for the Stuebs family. The tragedy of this event has scarred this family forever," Dan Kotin said. "Reliving it at trial would have been almost unbearable for all of them," Kotin added.

The Stuebs were new members of a family campground club and were camping at a resort in the western Illinois town of Colona, with their five small children and two foster children. They had set up their two family tents in a designated camping area with the intention of enjoying a week-long family vacation. By the third day, word had spread to the Stuebs family from fellow campers that a severe storm was approaching.

The family asked to move into one of several log cabins on the property, but was told by camp officials that they would have to wait for two days until the cabin was cleaned.

During the overnight hours on July 21, 2008, the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning and alerted people to potentially destructive winds. Campground personnel took no action to alert campers or evacuate the campground. At 6:00 a.m., Jason was awakened to a storm with winds that quickly increased to the point that "it was blowing the tent quite a bit," according to his deposition testimony.

He carried two of their children safely to their nearby car, but as he was returning to their tents to retrieve the other children, a large red oak tree fell on the tent, killing Dustin and Savannah. Two children, Dyantae and Hannah, then ages nine and seven, suffered minor injuries.

The Stuebs alleged in their lawsuit that the campground was negligent in failing to implement any recognized tree inspection program which, according to a plaintiffs' expert, would have revealed that the tree suffered from "trunk rot" and needed to be removed. Additionally, the Stuebs alleged that there was plenty of notice of the storm and that the campground failed to follow its own protocol, which would have required the campers be evacuated into the safety of a clubhouse basement.

"The campground was negligent in two ways: first, in not removing the tree, and second, in not evacuating the campers," Kotin said.

The defense focused on the fact that this was a once-in-a-century "derecho" storm with straight line winds exceeding 64 knots. The campground was prepared to argue that nobody could have foreseen this tragic "Act of God".

"We have to expect severe summer storms in the Midwest. People pay dues to these clubs and expect that the campground is safe and that they will be warned of any impending danger," Kotin said in response to the defense's contention.

Jason and Christina Stuebs recently welcomed another baby to their family. The family has not gone camping since July 2008, nor do they intend to do so. Of the settlement, Jason Stuebs said, "The settlement does nothing to ease the pain of our loss, but it will help us find closure and move forward with our lives."

The campground was represented by John Schultz and Pamela Welch of Franke, Schultz and Mullen, P.C. in Kansas City, Missouri. The case was filed in the Circuit Court of the County of St. Louis,
Case # 09SL-CC04582.

Helen Lucaitis
Corboy & Demetrio

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