Less than a month after the drowning deaths of teenage brothers in a Bayonne, New Jersey, school swimming pool, the boys’ family has initiated the first steps in filing a $100 million lawsuit.
On June 8, Jack Jiang, 16, and 19-year-old Chu Ming Zheng drowned while swimming at the Lincoln Community School pool, which is open to the public during certain hours.
According to reports, the three lifeguards who were present at the pool at the time noticed that the brothers, who were in the deep end, did not surface, and entered the pool.
The lifeguards and then police officers and other first responders attempted lifesaving measures, but the brothers were pronounced dead at Bayonne Medical Center, about 6 miles south of Jersey City.
On June 25, the family of the brothers filed two tort claims each in the amount of $50,000, alleging that the drownings at the pool were the result of negligence and that if litigation is necessary after the investigations, “so be it.”
A tort claim is a precursor to a lawsuit that must be filed within 90 days of an occurrence when a claim against a public entity is made.
In addition to New Jersey, the city of Bayonne, Hudson County, tort claims were also sent to the Bayonne schools superintendent, the Board of Education and the Lincoln Community School principal. The claims say that these entities or their employees failed to protect the brothers.
The family’s attorneys, Daryl Zaslow and Barry Eichen of Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow LLP, said the family is awaiting results of the drowning investigation conducted by the school district and city. Zaslow, whose team has conducted their own investigation by interviewing witnesses, said the drownings were “100-percent preventable.”
'This is not a situation in which kids snuck into a closed pool in the middle of the night and somebody drowned. There were supposed to be three lifeguards on duty. It is impossible to come up with a situation in which two children die in a situation like this one when lifeguards are on duty,' Zaslow told NJ101.5.
Zaslow told the Bayonne Community News that the tort claims were necessary to reserve the family’s right to file a lawsuit in the future.
The Tort Claims Act requires anyone who plans to sue the state or a municipality to give them written notice within 90 days of a potential case.
If a tort claim is not filed, regardless of the merits of the case, it could be barred forever as a procedural penalty. The formal lawsuit itself cannot be filed until six months have passed.
“The fact that we can’t file a formal suit under the Tort Claims Act until some time passes has not hampered us in terms of our investigation,” Eichen said. “We’ve talked to various aquatic safety and rescue experts who can’t think of any scenario where this community pool is not responsible for negligence and not saving these young men.”