Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 7:49 pm | Fair 58º


Yoni Gottesman Civil Trial Wraps Up with Emotional Closing Appeals

Family attorney describes parents broken by loss while lawyer for club owner says there must be limits on retribution

After five weeks of testimony and tearful appeals from the witness stand, a jury Wednesday pondered the emotional closing arguments of lawyers from both sides in the Yoni Gottesman civil trial. The case began nearly four years ago, on Aug. 10, 2005, when the 4-year-old boy drowned in a swimming pool on his first day of summer camp at Cathedral Oaks Athletic Club. Yoni’s parents, Oded and Anat Gottesman, are seeking damages from 11 defendants, nearly all of whom have conceded negligence, and a jury must now decide if they are guilty of willful misconduct and, if so, determine the amount of the damages.

“It’s not compensation for Yoni, it’s compensation for the harm they did to Yoni,” the Gottesmans’ attorney, Barry Cappello, told jurors. “Life taken from you is priceless. But this system of ours requires consequences.”

Cappello began the statements and made an emotional appeal to the jury, and many were moved to tears during the presentation, in the jury box and the public gallery. Cappello showed a slideshow of Yoni at various stages of his short life. “He could swim ... this is a boy who went to that camp equipped as any child or better,” he said, as an image was projected behind him of a smiling Yoni getting into a swimming pool.

“They were completely broken. Their lives were destroyed,” Cappello said as he described the Gottesmans learning in the emergency room that their child had died. Cappello worked off a number of angles throughout the trial, including allegations that lifeguards at the pool weren’t trained and hired correctly, the facility operated an unlicensed day camp, and that the owners and managers of the health club emphasized “profit over protection.”

Arguments were also heard from attorneys of the defendants, which encouraged the jury to make a decision devoid of emotion, and maintained that the club cared about the children it admitted to its day camp. All of the plaintiffs have admitted negligence except for Cal-West, the corporation that manages Cathedral Oaks and a handful of other athletic clubs, and oversaw the company’s financial state.

For the defendants to avoid paying medical expenses and punitive damages, they would have to prove that Yoni died in the pool, and was in a state from which he could not be revived after he was pulled from the water.

Daniel Henderson, attorney for Cal-West, also cautioned the jury to compensate the loss fairly. “Isn’t it ironic that this beautiful young boy who was described as being such a gentle loving soul, that he would be used as a vehicle to punish people?” he asked.

“They want you to stampede like headless beasts, but you won’t,” he told the jury.

He said Cal-West and owner Richard Berti were not responsible for oversight management but only dealt with the company’s finances.

“How can a director be charged with knowledge of everything that’s going on?” he asked the jury. “Once the director learns of something through a report or a recommendation then the business director takes over and has to act on that information.”

Henderson said Yoni’s condition was “not salvagable” after he was pulled from the pool.

Because the burden of proof lies on the plaintiff, Cappello will be given the last word in the closing statements. His discourse was cut short by time constraints but he will wrap up his comments at 9 a.m. Thursday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle’s court. The jury will then deliberate the case’s outcome.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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