Pennsylvania Record

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Lawsuit alleging Hilton pool lifeguard was on her phone while 5-year-old drowned settles

State Court

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jul 16, 2019

Hilton Hotels

PHILADELPHIA – A Shrewsbury man reached a settlement with the Hilton hotel chain and resort lifeguard he alleged was responsible for the drowning death of his eight year-old son in December 2016.

On March 27, plaintiff counsel filed an order to settle, discontinue and end the instant lawsuit, while requesting a designation to have the case marked the same way, more than two years after the litigation began. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

John Harvilicz Sr. (acting as administrator of the estate of his decedent son John Harvilicz Jr., known as “J.J.”) filed suit on Feb. 27, 2017 in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, versus Hilton Franchise Holding, LLC of McLean, Va., Willow Valley Associates, Inc. and Alexis Sutton, both of Willow Street.

Additional defendants would later include Natural Structures, Inc. of Baker City, Ore., Paul Risk Construction of Quarryville and Bernardon of Kennett Square.

Per the litigation, J.J. went to the DoubleTree Hotel Resort by Hilton Lancaster on Dec. 17, 2016, in order to attend a birthday party hosted by Michael and Harmony Reina for their son at the hotel’s indoor water playground. At no time during the incident was J.J. accompanied by his parents.

“At or near 4 p.m., during the pool party, J.J. and another boy were climbing the stairs to the twisting tube slide, when they were stopped by Alexis Sutton, the lifeguard, who instructed the boys that they could only use the slide one at a time. The other boy proceeded to go down the slide first. J.J. then climbed down the stairs to go down the slide next,” the lawsuit stated.

The suit alleged Sutton was on her cell phone and stepped down from her lifeguard post, not monitoring J.J. as he went down the slide moments later. After J.J. entered the pool, it is stated he bobbed up and down in the five-and-a-half-foot-deep water for approximately a minute and a half before sinking to the bottom of the pool – where the suit alleged he remained for six minutes before Sutton noticed him.

Despite resuscitation efforts by emergency responders and transport to Lancaster General Hospital, J.J. could not be revived and was pronounced dead. Despite J.J.’s death, the complaint claimed the defendants allowed the party to continue unabated.

The plaintiff alleged the defendants’ combined negligence caused J.J. to suffer “a violent, terrifying death by drowning, serious emotional, mental and physical distress during his drowning and extreme pain and suffering," in addition to loss of life’s pleasures, future earning potential and his estate incurred medical and funeral costs.

The defendants categorically denied all charges in later filings.

In March, more than two years after the litigation began, the case was settled.

Prior to settlement and for counts of negligence, survival, wrongful death, negligence per se through violation of Pennsylvania’s Public Bathing Law, violation of Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, the plaintiff was seeking damages, jointly and severally, in excess of $50,000, plus costs, punitive damages and other relief in this matter.

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 170207023

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at

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