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Corboy & Demetrio Secures $1.25 Million in Tent Deaths Caused by Fallen Tree

An Illinois family, whose two youngest children were killed when a tree fell on their tent while camping, has settled its lawsuit against the campground for  $1.25 million, the family’s lawyers announced.

The settlement was secured by the Chicago law firm of Corboy & Demetrio and James Dowd of St. Louis on behalf of the Sherman, Illinois family.  The trial judge in St. Louis County, Missouri where the lawsuit had been filed approved the settlement.

The four-year-old son and nine-month-old daughter of the couple were killed as they slept with their family in tents at a Colona, Illinois campground during a severe thunderstorm in July 2008.

The couple were new members of a campground club and were camping at a resort in the western Illinois town of Colona, with their five small children and two foster children.  They had set up two family tents in a designated camping area with the intention of enjoying a week-long family vacation.  By the third day, word had spread to the family from fellow campers that a severe storm was approaching. 

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

During the 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.  At 6:00 a.m., the father was awakened to a storm with winds that quickly increased to the point that “it was blowing the tent quite a bit,” according to his deposition testimony.

He carried two of the children safely to the family’s nearby car, but as he was returning to their tents to retrieve the other children, a large red oak tree fell on the tent, killing two children.  Two other children, ages nine and seven, suffered minor injuries.  

The family alleged in its lawsuit that the campground was negligent in failing 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.  Additionally, the family alleged that there was plenty of notice of the storm and that the campground failed to follow its own protocol, which would have required the campers be evacuated into the safety of a clubhouse basement. 

The defense focused on the fact that this was a once-in-a-century “derecho” storm with straight line winds exceeding 64 knots.  The campground was prepared to argue that nobody could have foreseen this tragic “Act of God”.   

The campground was represented by John Schultz and Pamela Welch of Franke, Schultz and Mullen, P.C. in Kansas City, Missouri.   The case was filed in the Circuit Court of the County of St. Louis.

Case # 09SL-CC04582.

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