Wrongful death claim filed by parents of boy who drowned while trying to save friend

By Jon Campisi | Aug 27, 2012

The parents of a teenager who drowned in the spring of 2011 after attempting to assist a

friend who had fallen into the Delaware River have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owners of the property where the incident leading up to the death occurred.

Philadelphia residents Edward Wilkinson and Karen German are suing New Jersey-based Churchill Commercial Development and various company subsidiaries over the death of their son, William Wilkinson, a 17-year-old who drowned on the Philadelphia side of the Delaware River in May of last year after he jumped into the water to save an acquaintance.

The civil action was filed Aug. 16 at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas by Philadelphia attorney Eric H. Weitz, of the firm Messa & Associates.

According to the complaint, William Wilkinson, who had turned 17 two months prior to his death, was hanging out with friends at the bulkhead at 7777 State Road in Philadelphia, a piece of property that abuts the waterway, when one of the teens in the group fell into the river.

The group had been sitting on the bulkhead facing the river at the time with their legs dangling over the edge of the bulkhead.

When one of the girls in the group, identified in the lawsuit as Jennifer Torres, attempt to stand up, the wooden plank and its joists gave way, causing her to plunge into the cold waterway, the lawsuit states.

As Torres surfaced, she was choking and being swept down current, according to the complaint.

The suit goes on to state that in an effort to save his friend, William Wilkinson jumped into the river, grabbing the girl and holding her until another swimmer was able to jump into the river and pull Torres to safety.

Meanwhile, the suit states, William was unable to make it to shore, and he was swept into the current and underwater, where he eventually drowned.

The lawsuit says that the defendants were not allowed to “needlessly endanger members of the public,” such as William Wilkinson, and it faults the property owners for not doing enough to ensure the safety of those who traverse the property.

The suit claims that the defendants permit members of the public to access their property, and as such they should have ensured that the property was properly maintained at all times.

“At all relevant and material time, The Churchill Defendants were required to protect invitees such as William Wilkinson from foreseeable harm at The State Road Property,” the lawsuit states. “At all relevant and material time, The Churchill Defendants, jointly and severally, were required to inspect The State Road Property and to discover dangerous conditions at the property.”

The plaintiffs claim they are entitled to all expenses recoverable under Pennsylvania’s Wrongful Death Act, including, but not limited to, damages for funeral and burial expenses, as well as expenses of administration made necessary because of William’s death.

The suit also contains Survival Act and negligence counts.

William’s parents also seek damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of future earnings, loss of life’s pleasures, humiliation, embarrassment, emotional and psychological trauma, medical expenses and death.

For each of the counts listed in the complaint, the plaintiffs seek damages in excess of $50,000, plus interest, costs and other court relief.


The case ID number is 120801665. 

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