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Victims of Christmas Day Tragedy Receive $13,225,000 Award

Attorney:Dennis J. Sherwin, Partner, Civil Department, Rose, Klein & Marias, Ontario

John Doe, his 13 year old son, 9 year old daughter, and two nephews, ages 12 and 11, along with three other families, were invited to spend Christmas day at a friend’s home, which was located on the property of a year-round camp in Waterman Canyon in the San Bernardino mountains. The friend was employed as the caretaker of the camp, owned by a very prominent church in Los Angeles. The land above the camp was national forest land owned by the United States government. In October and November, fire storms ravaged portions of these mountains, in particular, Waterman Canyon. All the trees, shrubs and ground cover were completely destroyed.

In the evening hours of Christmas eve there was a very light rain. When John Doe awoke on Christmas morning it was not raining. He and his two children picked up his nephews and drove to the camp to spend Christmas day with the caretaker, his family and others. When John Doe arrived at the camp, there was a light rain, however, over the next hour and a half, the rainfall became much more intense. As the downpour continued, the caretaker noticed that the creek that ran through the camp and close to his home had started to overflow. He and some of his guests went out onto his porch. Within minutes, John Doe and the others heard a horrible and deafening sound which some described as an approaching freight train. The caretaker yelled to his friends to run as he saw a giant wall of mud, rocks and trees sweeping down the mountain side towards the camp. Some of the guest were able to leave the porch and cross to higher ground before the tidal wave of mud slammed into the caretaker’s home and the area around it. The wall of mud and debris swallowed the home, the surrounding buildings, and Jon Doe, his children and nephews and the guests who were in the path of the river of mud. While John Doe and others survived, his children, nephews and others did not.

John Doe and the parents of his two nephews hired Rose, Klein & Marias to seek compensation for their unimaginable loss. Dennis J. Sherwin, a partner and trial lawyer in the firm’s Ontario office, filed a lawsuit against the church claiming that it was responsible for the Christmas day tragedy. Mr. Sherwin argued that the church was aware of the potential for severe mudslides due to the recent fires but did not take proper steps to protect its employee and his guests from this danger. Lawsuits were filed by two other attorneys representing other guests at the camp, and Mr. Sherwin acted as the lead attorney in the lawsuit. The church argued that the mudslide occurred as a result of an unprecedented rain storm and that the tragedy was an act of God that could not have been predicted or prevented by any action taken by the Church. The Church also argued that they had properly instructed the caretaker on emergency measures.

After extensive investigation and discovery, the case was settled a few weeks before Trial for $13,225,000, a record amount for this type of case.

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