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Family of boy killed by falling tree files wrongful death suit

When parents send their children to camp, on school trips or any other organized youth outings where adults are in charge, they have a reasonable expectation that the children will be kept safe from harm. If a child is injured or killed while on the outing, its organizers may be held responsible. But to what degree?

The family of a boy who was killed by a falling tree at a Carroll County, Maryland, nature camp has filed a $12 million wrongful death lawsuit, saying the managers should have cut down the dead tree and made the children attending the camp stay inside during a period of high winds.

The fourth-grade boy from Pennsylvania, who was attending the camp while on holiday break from school, and his fellow campers were out on a morning hike when the 100-foot tree fell in December 2009. He was knocked unconscious and suffered a severe head injury that caused his death two days later at a hospital.

An employee told police that all dead trees within the area of the camp structures had been cut down, but the one that fell on the boy was apparently excluded. A report by the Department of Natural Resources confirms the tree was significantly decayed at its base. That decay, in combination with strong winds the morning of the hike, caused the tree to fall.

The lawsuit says that a high-wind advisory was issued by the National Weather Service that day. With gusts of almost 37 mph and temperatures of 28 degrees, the suit says, the environmental center's staff should have kept the children inside. The lawsuit names the county as the defendant and not the individuals who led the children on the hike.

The statute of limitations allows the lawsuit to be filed up to three years after the incident -- in this case, until this month. The county has 30 days to file an answer. Whether it takes responsibility for the decaying tree remains to be seen. If it doesn't, an emotional court battle will likely follow.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, "Family of boy killed by falling tree at camp sues Carroll Co.," Arthur Hirsch, Dec. 7, 2011

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