Judge approves two more settlements in case of Caleb Schwab’s death on Verrückt

How Schlitterbahn’s Verruckt was built in Wyandotte County

What has become clearer since the tragic death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab is that from nearly the moment the Verruckt was proposed in Wyandotte County, its path to completion was all but assured with almost no outside officials casting a critica
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What has become clearer since the tragic death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab is that from nearly the moment the Verruckt was proposed in Wyandotte County, its path to completion was all but assured with almost no outside officials casting a critica

The family of Caleb Schwab, the 10-year-old boy who was killed riding the 17-story Verrückt water slide at Schlitterbahn Vacation Village in Kansas City, Kan., has reached settlements with two companies associated with building the attraction.

Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab took the stand Wednesday to testify that he understood and agreed to terms of a wrongful-death settlement involving his son, which a Johnson County District Court judge approved.

Schwab, dressed in a suit and a dark red shirt, generally agreed with several questions posed by his attorney, Michael Rader, about the nature of the settlement with Henry & Sons Construction and National Aquatics Safety Company, a consulting firm in Texas.

Johnson County District Court Judge Thomas Sutherland reviewed written exhibits detailing the terms of the settlement, but attorneys representing Schwab withdrew those exhibits and they did not become part of the public record. Thus, the terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

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Those exhibits included written testimony from Michele Schwab, Scott Schwab’s wife, who met with Sutherland before Wednesday’s hearing but told the judge that her son’s death remains difficult to talk about and that she would prefer to be excused from testifying publicly.

Henry & Sons Construction was the general contractor for Verrückt, a 168-foot water slide meant for thrill-seekers that broke records for the height of such attractions. Henry & Sons Construction is affiliated with Jeff Henry, co-owner of Schlitterbahn.

National Aquatics Safety Company, based in Dickinson, Texas, and its owner, John Hunsucker, was a consultant on the Verrückt project.

Caleb Schwab was at Schlitterbahn Vacation Village with his family on a day when elected officials were allowed to attend the water park free of admission.

Caleb was accompanied on the ride by two women, who suffered injuries. They have reached settlements, as well, which were not disclosed.

Rader, an attorney with Leawood law firm Bartimus, Frickleton, Robertson, declined to comment afterward. Todd Scharnhorst, an attorney with Scharnhorst Ast Kennard Griffin, also represented Schwab. Attorneys representing the defendants said little and raised no objections during the hearing.

“We are all deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred on the Verrückt water slide at Schlitterbahn Kansas City on August 7, 2016,” said Destiny Bounds, an attorney with Overland Park law firm Sanders Warren & Russell representing National Aquatics Safety Company and Hunsucker, in an email to The Star.

“And although Dr. Hunsucker and (National Aquatics Safety Company) deny and continue to deny any liability associated with this tragic accident, Dr. John Hunsucker, individually and on behalf of his company — National Aquatics Safety Company — expresses their deepest condolences to the Schwab family and each and every one of those affected by what happened that day, and are hopeful that the resolution reached will help bring some closure to the those affected.”

Wednesday’s hearing followed a similar pattern as one held in January when the Schwab family reached a settlement with Schlitterbahn. The terms of that settlement were also not disclosed.

In questioning Schwab, Rader said a team of investigators and experts ranging from textile engineers to restraint experts evaluated the circumstances that led to Caleb’s death. Schwab’s legal team, according to Rader, engaged in lengthy negotiations and a mediation session with Henry & Sons and National Aquatics Safety Company to arrive at Wednesday’s settlement.

Schwab, under questioning from Sutherland, said he understood that a jury could have awarded more than the settlement amount, about the same, less or nothing at all. Schwab also said he understood that he could not pursue any claims against any of the settling defendants, even if he learns new information in the future about what happened to his son.

The Kansas City, Kan., Police Department investigated the incident and submitted its findings to the Wyandotte County district attorney’s office, which then referred the matter to the Kansas attorney general’s office. Their evaluation remains ongoing.

Sutherland said he approved the terms of the settlement, finding that it was “fair, just and reasonable.” In a lengthy discussion, Sutherland cited his 17 years as a trial attorney in reconciling Wednesday’s settlement terms.

“I find that the documents I reviewed today are very similar to those I reviewed in my private practice days,” Sutherland said.

He said that the contingency payment to Schwab’s attorneys — one third of the settlement proceeds after legal expenses — was in line with what other Kansas City attorneys recover in similar cases.

Steve Vockrodt: 816-234-4277, @st_vockrodt

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