Settlement Reached in Campground Deaths Suit

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October 21, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

A Sherman, Ill., family whose two youngest children were killed when a tree fell on their tent while camping near the Quad Cities three years ago has settled its lawsuit against the campground for $1.25 million, the family’s lawyers said Thursday (Oct. 20).

Four-year-old Dustin Stuebs and 9-month-old Savannah Stuebs were killed as they slept with their family in tents at Indian Trails Resort at Colona just east of the Quad Cities. The tree fell during a severe thunderstorm in July 2008, The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.

“This settlement was a great alternative to a jury trial for the Stuebs family,” said Dan Kotin of the Chicago law firm Corboy & Demetrio, who along with James Dowd of St. Louis represented Jason and Christina Stuebs. “The tragedy of this event has scarred this family forever. Reliving it at trial would have been almost unbearable for all of them.”

“The settlement does nothing to ease the pain of our loss, but it will help us find closure and move forward with our lives,” Jason Stuebs said in a statement submitted by the family’s lawyer.

What happened

The Stuebses were new members of a family campground club and were on a weeklong vacation at the resort with their five children and two foster children. They had set up their two tents in a designated camping area.

On the third day, fellow campers told the Stuebs family a severe storm was approaching.

The family asked to move into one of several log cabins on the property, but camp officials said they would have to wait two days until the cabin was cleaned, Kotin said.

Overnight hours on July 21, 2008, the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning and alerted people to potentially destructive winds. Campground personnel took no action to alert campers or evacuate the campground, the suit said.

When Jason Stuebs awoke at 6 a.m., a storm was under way, and winds quickly increased to the point that “it was blowing the tent quite a bit,” according to his deposition testimony.

He carried two of their children to their nearby car, but as he was returning to their tents to retrieve the other children, a red oak tree fell on the tent, killing Dustin and Savannah. Two other children, Dyantae and Hannah, then ages 9 and 7, suffered minor injuries.

Failure to act

In their suit, filed in St. Louis County, the Stuebses alleged that the campground failed to implement any recognized tree-inspection program, which, according to a plaintiffs’ expert, would have revealed that the tree suffered from trunk rot and needed to be removed. The suit also said there was plenty of notice of the storm and that the campground failed to follow its own rules, which required campers to be evacuated into the safety of a clubhouse basement.

“The campground was negligent in two ways: first, in not removing the tree, and second, in not evacuating the campers,” Kotin said.

The campground was prepared to argue that nobody could have foreseen this “act of God." The once-in-a-century storm had straight-line winds exceeding 75 mph, the defense said.

“We have to expect severe summer storms in the Midwest,” Kotin said in response to the defense contention.

Jason and Christina Stuebs recently had another child. The family has not gone camping since July 2008, nor do they intend to do so, Kotin said.

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