A Missouri appeals court has ruled that Kansas City does not have immunity in the death of a 10-year-old Northland boy who drowned in a drainage ditch near an elementary school in 2007.
Christopher Dill, a fourth-grader, died May 30, 2007. He was walking with friends through a field near Maplewood Elementary School when rainwater swept him off his feet and into a drainage ditch.
His parents, Angela Phelps and Lynn Dill, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city and North Kansas City School District. The parents alleged negligence and that the ditch near Northeast 52nd Street and Beacon Avenue was unguarded and overgrown with vegetation.
In its decision released Tuesday, the appeals court reversed a ruling to dismiss to the city from the lawsuit. The case has been sent back to the Clay County Circuit Court.
City Attorney Bill Geary said he has not seen the court ruling and declined to comment. The attorney for the parents could not be reached.
The parents alleged the drainage ditch was located on school property but that the city was responsible for maintaining it, including the streets, sidewalks and storm-water sewer.
On the day Christopher drowned, rain had filled the ditch, which runs along the street about 190 feet from the playground. A strong current pulled Christopher under water and trapped him at the opening of a drainage tube. He was submerged for several minutes before neighbors pulled him out and tried to revive him. Emergency crews rushed him to a hospital, where he died.
Shortly after the civil lawsuit was filed, the city was granted a motion to be dismissed from the suit because the boys’ parents failed to show that state law allowed the city to be sued over the issue. The city said the drainage ditch was owned by the district and not the city. The parents appealed that ruling.
In their amended petition, the parents did not name the district because they had reached a settlement with it. Their suit contends the city’s storm water drainage system was poorly designed and maintained by the city. Christopher drowned as a result of that design and lack of maintenance, his parents contend.