$4.75 Million Settlement for Wrongful Death After Negligent Service of Alcohol at Waterpark Causes Drunken Crash
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An indoor waterpark operator agreed to pay $4,750,000 settlement for wrongful death. That was to settle claims that it caused the death of one child and seriously injured another. It all happened after serving alcohol to the childrens’ father when he was visibly intoxicated. The waterpark owner and operator was defendant Apex Parks Group, LLC, a defunct company. It was one of the Top 20 settlements for the year in New Jersey.
Lou DeVoto represented RD’s clients
The children’s mother Ana Silva filed a lawsuit in Superior Court, Camden County. It was against the waterpark operator and her ex-husband Marcelo Rizzo. Evidence uncovered by DeVoto during discovery showed that co-defendant Marcelo Rizzo consumed the equivalent of 16 -18 shots of alcohol in a 3-1/2 hour period. Mr. Rizzo’s blood alcohol level was more than double the legal limit almost three hours after the crash. Toxicology experts opined that he was well above the limit for visible intoxication when he was served. Receipts showed that Rizzo had a $100 bar bill. He described himself as “pretty smashed” in a text message to his girlfriend prior to consuming his last drink.
According to DeVoto, “The defendant had a reckless business model that encouraged drinking by adults who should have been supervising their children. Instead, they were offered specialty drinks and cocktails typical of those seen at Caribbean resorts including “fishbowls of alcohol” despite knowing that these parents would eventually have to transport their children home.”
What actually happened?
Shortly after leaving the child’s waterpark in Berlin, New Jersey, closed circuit video captured the extremely intoxicated father. He was having difficulty navigating his vehicle out of the parking lot. Defendant Rizzo finally drove over a grass median to access the exit of an adjoining property. That was before the beginning of a terrifying trip along Route 295 North in Mount Laurel where he crashed into several cars on the highway without stopping before finally losing control of his vehicle and striking a tree.
His oldest daughter (age 9) ended up ejected from the car and pronounced dead at the scene. His younger daughter (age 8) sustained serious injuries. They included a fractured arm, fractured pelvis, and a lacerated bladder, each requiring surgery. Both children had emotional distress claims as a result of the terrifying ordeal including the surviving child having witnessed the aftermath of the crash. Police at the scene documented Rizzo’s obvious signs of intoxication.
Settlement for Wrongful Death?
Defendant Rizzo was arrested and pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and endangering the welfare of a minor. He is serving a ten-year prison sentence. Apex Parks Group, LLC filed bankruptcy during the pendency of the case. Plaintiffs were successful in removing the case from bankruptcy. The condition was that plaintiffs could not seek recovery above the available insurance proceeds.
Said DeVoto, “this is such a tragic case because it destroyed an entire family and was preventable with even the slightest of care. My clients’ will never be the same but they are content that they can put this matter behind them and move forward with their lives.”
The case settled on October 14, 2020 after mediation with the Honorable Mark B. Epstein, Retired Judge of the Superior Court. Defendant Apex Parks Group, LLC paid $1,750,000 to settle the settlement for wrongful death claim and $3,000,000 to settle the minor’s injury and emotional distress claim. They denied any wrongdoing. The case against defendant Rizzo remains inconclusive. A Friendly hearing is pending as is a motion to bar the defendant father from recovering any settlement proceeds from his deceased daughter’s estate.