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Schlitterbahn wrongful death claims settle for $19.7M

The Verruckt waterslide at the Schlitterbahn waterpark. Photo by Scott Lauck

The Verruckt waterslide at the Schlitterbahn waterpark. Photo by Scott Lauck

Settlements for the family of a 10-year-old killed last summer on a Kansas waterslide totaled more than $19.7 million, according to attorneys for the boy’s family.

On Aug. 7, 2016, Caleb Schwab died while riding the Verruckt slide at Schlitterbahn, a water park in Kansas City, Kansas. Verruckt, German for “insane,” was marketed as the world’s tallest waterslide at its 2014 opening.

Schwab is the son of Kansas State Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe. Scott Schwab, his wife, Michele Schwab, and the Estate of Caleb Schwab filed the wrongful death action in Johnson County District Court.

On Jan. 11, the family settled with SVV 1 LLC, and KC Waterpark Management LLC, which collectively make up Schlitterbahn for $14 million, and with raft manufacturer Zebec of North America Inc. for $500,000. The settlement was approved by Johnson County District Judge Thomas M. Sutherland.

Sutherland approved a second round of settlements on April 12 with the National Aquatic Safety Co., a consulting firm, for $232,125; and with Henry & Sons Construction Co., which built the ride, for $5 million.

Altogether, the settlements totaled $19,732,125.

The amounts of the settlements haven’t previously been disclosed. The Schwab family’s attorneys, Michael C. Rader of Bartimus Frickleton Robertson in Leawood, Kansas, and Todd Scharnhorst of Scharnhorst Ast Kennard & Griffin in Kansas City, provided the figures to Missouri Lawyers Weekly on Thursday.

Rader said retained experts were instrumental to obtaining the settlements. To help sift through theories of liability, he and Scharnhorst consulted with experts from fields including polymer fiber science, biomechanical engineering, computer forensics, accident reconstruction, warnings operations, restraint devices and ride design.

Some of the design and testing of the slide occurred in Texas, allowing the plaintiffs to argue that Texas law applied. Rader said Texas’ law regarding noneconomic damage caps in child wrongful death claims is more favorable than that of Kansas.

“We never could have made a viable argument that Texas law applied without first becoming well versed in the facts regarding the design, construction and operation of this ride,” he said.

After Schwab’s death, one of the most pressing issues the attorneys handled was an intense interest in the case by media outlets around the world. The young boy was decapitated when the raft in which he was riding became airborne and crashed into metal rods supporting the slide’s overhead netting, his attorneys said.040617-schlitterbahn_4785

During the flurry of requests, Scharnhorst said it was critically important to not lose sight of the most important piece of the puzzle, the Schwab family.

“While news is certainly important, and while events such as this may be newsworthy, you must always keep the family in mind, taking every step to avoid furthering their grief,” he said. “Balancing this can be a true challenge.”

Rader said attorneys only communicated with the press out of necessity in the days following Schwab’s death.

For other attorneys who find themselves in a similar situation, he recommended they remember that they serve two roles — one as an advocate for their clients and another as a public relations guide.

“In the initial stages of the litigation, when media attention is at its peak, both hats are as equally important,” he said. “Nothing can worsen an already tragic situation more than unwanted and unfettered media inquiries.”

He said attorneys should coordinate with the media at the earliest point possible. While keeping a handle on the press can be laborious, he said it is ultimately in the client’s best interest.

“Absorbing this pressure allows your clients to focus on what’s important,” he said.

Scharnhorst said plaintiffs’ counsel were “extraordinarily fortunate” to represent the Schwab family.

“Many could learn from the Schwabs, their faith and their dignified response to this tragedy,” he said. “Our firms are extremely pleased to have met the established goal of a swift and just resolution for Scott, Michele and their three young children.”

 

Reporter Scott Lauck contributed to this report

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