A Salt Lake County jury finds West Jordan City government partially negligent for the 2010 deaths of two kayakers on the Jordan River.
The Sandy couple died four years ago when they went over a small dam and drowned; a sign alerting boaters to the deadly hazard was overgrown with vegetation.
A lawsuit filed by family members of the couple went to trial last week, and the case was turned over to jurors Monday evening.
After four hours of deliberations, a Salt Lake County jury found the city of West Jordan partially negligent in the deaths of Joe and Kelly Glasser.
The jury awarded a $2.4 million verdict, however, West Jordan will only have to pay 5 percent of that, which is the percentage of fault jurors allocated to West Jordan.
The jury allocated the majority of fault in the Glasser’s deaths to other government entities including Murray City and the state. But all of the other government entities had settled before trial.
Joe and Kelly Glasser were kayaking the Jordan River Aug. 1, 2010. After clearing the Winchester Street Bridge, they went over a pipeline, flipped into the water and drowned in the undertow.
Family members and their attorneys claim the kayakers never knew of the danger, even though others had died there.
Eric Olson, who represented the Glassers’ various family members in the lawsuit, said that because the family settled with the other plaintiffs prior to the trial, only West Jordan will pay any portion of the total $2,411,052 in damages – the 5 percent awarded by the jury.
“The family is very pleased with the result, because it acknowledged the size of their loss with the size of the award and acknowledged that these defendants are responsible,” Olson said. “Their hope is that this will raise public awareness and public safety.”
In a victory for the plaintiffs, the court ruled that “West Jordan had a duty to maintain the property around the sign.”
The ruling stated: “West Jordan had possessor liability (of the sign) because it exercised control over the area on the west bank of the river, between the Winchester Street Bridge and 7000 South. This control included maintaining the trail, and the vegetation on both sides of the trail, from the fence line to the river.”
In closing arguments, the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that negligence led to the Glassers’ deaths, and their families deserve monetary compensation.
While West Jordan built the Jordan River Parkway and maintains the trail, attorneys for the city argued that the warning sign was installed and maintained by Murray City, which also owns the hazard. They argued West Jordan city leaders had no idea they were responsible for the sign.
Attorneys for the city also argued the Glassers should have scouted out the hazard before they decided to paddle over it.
The Murray City, Salt Lake County and Utah state governments have already settled similar lawsuits with the plaintiffs. If the jury in this case sides with the plaintiffs, jurors will also assign a percentage of blame to each of those parties for financial compensation.
Agreements are in place now among those three governments to move ahead to build a portage and safeguard that area. So far, none of that work has started.
“In any civil lawsuit they are rewarding money, there is a financial aspect, but a big concern for them is that this area be remedied and no one else ever die,” Olson said.