Jury Awards Family $31M in 2001 Drowning | NBC Chicago

Jury Awards Family $31M in 2001 Drowning

One brother drowned; two others severely injured



    (Published Friday, Feb. 25, 2011)

    A jury in Crown Point, Ind., on Friday awarded $30.7 million to a family with three boys who fell into an icy lake nearly 10 years ago. It's a judgment that's one of the highest in the history of North Western Indiana.

    "No money in the world is worth what I lost," said Tom Kennedy, whose life changed in an instant on March 11, 2001. His three sons walked out on to lake when the ice gave way.

    Andrew drowned. He was 11. James, then 10, suffered permanent brain damage. His other, son, Chris, then 10, is still grappling with the psychological scars of emerging from the accident the best off of all the brothers.

    "They were acting simply like any 10- [or] 11-year-old kid would do. Playing on ice. Also throwing ice on the rocks to test the safety before going out there,” said Timothy Schafer, Kennedy's attorney.

    During a five day trial this week in Lake County, Ind., Schafer proved the kids weren’t negligent; that instead, the property owners association for the Lakes of the Four Seasons is to blame for failing to restrict access to the lake with a gate or post warning signs.

    "These kids weren’t given a chance," said Shafer.

    Kennedy said the judgment ensures his son James will get a chance to have a life. Now 20, he reads at a third grade level, according to his father.  At trial, he was able to tell the court the sum of five plus five. But didn’t know the answer to 6 plus 2.

    About $25 million of the judgment is for his long term care.

    "I’m just very pleased that he won’t have to worry about it, that he’ll have a better quality of life than I could give him," said his father.

    Tom Kennedy acknowledges the money cannot change his past, but he hopes it forces change in the future for property associations.

    "If it sends out a message to others, whether it’s a community nearby or a community a thousand miles away, that they should think twice about looking out for the safety of other children," he said.

    Ultimately, it’ll be the insurance carrier of the property association that pays up on this judgment. But since an appeal is expected, the money won’t be coming right away.

    Tom Kennedy says despite the judgment, his neighborhood still does not have signs posted to warn people to stay off the ice.

    NBC Chicago sent an e-mailed to board member of the property association seeking comment, but heard back from no one as of the posting of this article.