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Boy’s burns earn modest jury award

A St. Louis County jury has awarded $75,000 in damages to a boy who fell into a fire pit at his sister’s soccer team practice — an award hailed by defense lawyers who faced several six- and seven-figure pretrial demands.

The child, identified as J.G. in the suit, was 6 when he suffered severe burn after falling into the open fire pit on Oct. 20, 2017, at a city of Sunset Hills soccer facility operated by the St. Louis Steamers Soccer Organization. 

The fire pit was adjacent to a concession stand, but there was no nearby fire extinguisher, water hose or dirt or sand to put out the flames.

Plaintiff’s attorney Ryan Keane said the boy has three “dollar-bill sized” permanent scars on his lower back and left wrist from skin debridement and grafting, having suffered second- and third-degree burns over 9 to 10 percent of his body that required a weeklong hospital stay and future skin graft surgeries.

The plaintiffs initial, $1 million pretrial demand increased to $7 million at mediation, when an umbrella policy was disclosed by the defense, Keane said, with a final demand at trial of $975,000. 

But the jury, after deliberating four hours at the conclusion of a five-day trial, set the damages far lower, apportioning 60 percent of the damages to the soccer organization and 40 percent to the city, with no comparative fault on the boy’s part.

“What is the value of that disfigurement?” Keane said. “Unlike the loss of leg, or an arm, there’s no permanent loss of use. I think the jury might have wrestled with what that’s worth.” 

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$75,000 verdict

Premises liability

Allocation of fault: 60 percent to St. Louis Steamers, 40 percent to City of Sunset Hills

Venue: St. Louis County Circuit Court

Case Number/Date: 18SL-CC03990/Oct. 18, 2021

Judge: Richard Stewart

Plaintiff’s experts: Dr. Thomas Francel, St. Louis (plastic surgery); Richard “Smokey” Dyer, Kansas City, fire consultant

First pretrial demand: $1 million

First pretrial offer: $40,000

Last demand: $975,000 at trial

Caption: J.G., a minor, by and through his next friend J.G. v. The City of Sunset Hills and St. Louis Steamers Soccer Organization Inc.

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Ryan Keane and Steven Duke, Keane Law, St. Louis

Defendants’ Attorneys:  Michael Maguire, Brown & James, St. Louis; Michael Hufft; Hufft & Maginn, Kansas City