The Drunken Woman Who Drowned Case

The Claim:

A drunk woman's estate received $1 million after she entered a closed city park and drowned in three feet of water.

The Truth:

Sure sounds outrageous. It's unfortunate that "reformers" who cite this case neglect to mention that the state appellate court reversed the decision.

On July 21, 1985, a group of seven people, including 32-year-old plaintiff Ana Garcia, squeezed through a hole in a fence at approximately 1 a.m. to get into a municipal pool in the Bronx. The lights were off and no lifeguards were on duty. Ms. Garcia, who had been drinking and whose blood-alcohol level was later measured at 0.23 percent (twice the legal limit), stepped into the shallow water, fell beneath its surface and drowned.

At trial, the woman's family won a $2 million negligence suit against New York City, even though the jury agreed that the woman herself was partly negligent for breaking into the pool and trying to swim while intoxicated. The award was later reduced to approximately $615,000.

In October 1994, the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court threw out the entire award, stating that the woman assumed the risk of her actions and thus was solely responsible for her own death. The five-judge panel found that her "reckless and culpable" conduct was an unforeseeable superseding event which absolved the city from any liability. The city, the court added, took all reasonably necessary steps to secure the area and was not negligent for failing to keep trespassers out of the pool or a lifeguard on duty after the park was officially closed for the evening.

Cites: Garcia v. City of New York, 205 A.D.2d 49 (N.Y. App. Div. 1994); "Drowning Suit Award Reversed," The New York Times, Oct. 21, 1994, at B3; "Appellate Division Dismisses $2 Million Verdict in Drowning," New York Law Journal, Oct. 21, 1994, at 1.

Used with permission from The Association of Trial Lawyers of America. All rights reserved.