Family to appeal dismissal of suit against county, city in teen’s 2007 drowning

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The family of a 14-year-old boy who drowned in 2007 at South Beach will appeal a judge’s dismissal of their civil lawsuit against the Indian River County and City of Vero Beach governments.

Circuit Court Judge Paul Kanarek dismissed Eric Brown and Dorothy Scott’s lawsuit Thursday, citing a state law that protects local governments from being held liable for injuries or deaths related to “the inherent danger of constantly changing surf and other naturally occurring conditions along Florida’s coast.” Attorney Joseph Graves, who is representing the family, said that the family will appeal the ruling to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. He said the state law Judge Kanarek cited provides limited immunity but not full immunity in such cases.

Graves said the city and county could have done more to prevent the teen, Eric Brown, from entering the water.

At the time of the incident, the lifeguard stand was flying a red flag indicating high hazard, high surf, and/or strong currents. Also, there were signs posted at the public entrance to the beach instructing swimmers what to do if they were caught in a rip current.

“Close the beach,” Graves said when asked what more could have been done. He explained that the government knew how dangerous the conditions were when it posted the red flag.

“If it’s that dangerous” the beach should have been closed, he said.

Attorney Paul Berg, of Vocelle & Berg, represented the government in the lawsuit, and said that the county and city had done what it could to warn all beachgoers to the surf’s condition that day.

According to reports, Brown went into the water about 150 feet south of South Beach Park’s city boundary where lifeguards were stationed.

“It’s a tragic case,” Berg said. “It’s a tragic accident.”

The family is seeking financial damages against the city and county, but how much has not been specified. The amount is at least $15,000, which is the threshold for the case to be filed in circuit court.

“I don’t think that’s the family’s main concern,” Graves said.

Brown’s body was never recovered despite a massive search.

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