KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A lower court was correct to dismiss the lawsuit of a Boone County woman who sued a utility company after her two children died in a boat dock accident at the Lake of the Ozarks, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Angela Anderson filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2013 in Morgan County claiming Union Electric Co., which owns the recreational lake, failed to notify dock owners at the Lake of the Ozarks of the need to for electrical protection devices to prevent shocks in case of short circuits.
Anderson’s children, Alexandra Anderson, 14, and Brayden Alexander, 8, died in July 2012 while swimming at the family’s vacation home at the lake when they encountered a stray electrical current, according to her lawsuit. She claimed the children died from “drowning, electrocution, or both” and that Union Electric was negligent.
The county court dismissed the lawsuit, agreeing with a motion from the utility, now called Ameren Missouri, seeking dismissal based on its immunity under a state recreational use act, which limits liability for landowners when people use their property free of charge. A Missouri appeals panel reversed the lower court’s decision last year.
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The high court agreed with the lower court and said the recreational use act, which is intended for “landowners who open their land to the public free of charge for recreational use,” applies in this case.
The state Supreme Court also rejected an argument in Anderson’s lawsuit that Union Electric could not apply the recreational use standard because her family’s use of the lake was not free. Her lawsuit said her family paid Union Electric a use fee for her dock permit, which would constitute payment.
The high court said the dock permit fees weren’t a charge and were instead “for the privilege of building and using the dock.”
“Anderson’s children were killed while swimming in a portion of the Lake that was open to them (and the rest of the public) for recreational use free of charge,” the court said.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Richard B. Teitelman said the dock fee amounted to a charge.
The utility said in an emailed statement Tuesday that the company is “pleased” with the decision and expresses “sympathy to the Anderson family.”