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Jury Awards $14 Million to 4-year-old Drowning Victim’s Family

Family of Yoni Gottesman granted compensatory damages in Cathedral Oaks Athletic Club case. Five defendants guilty of willful misconduct face added punitive damages

The parents of a 4-year-old boy who drowned in the swimming pool at Cathedral Oaks Athletic Club were awarded compensatory damages that amount to nearly $14 million Monday.

After weeks of testimony and several days of deliberation in the civil trial, the jury issued its verdict Monday afternoon for compensatory damages to be paid to Oded and Anat Gottesman, who had sued the club after their son, Yoni, drowned on the first day of summer camp almost four years ago.

Ten of the 11 defendants in the case, ranging from lifeguards at the pool to managers at the club, admitted they had been negligent in the case. The only party that did not admit negligence was Cal-West, the corporation that manages Cathedral Oaks and a handful of sister clubs, and oversaw the company’s financial state. Jurors ruled that Cal-West had been negligent, however, and will be responsible for paying 15 percent of the damages determined Monday.

Also at stake in the case was whether several of the defendants were guilty of willful misconduct, which would involve intentionally failing duties, knowing that injury will probably result or recklessly disregarding the possibility of injury.

The jury found Julie Main and Charlotte Valentine, both managers at the club, and aquatics director Esther Clark guilty of willful misconduct. Cathedral Oaks Athletic Club, 5800 Cathedral Oaks Road, was also found guilty.  In addition, all four parties were found by clear and convincing evidence to have engaged in the conduct of malice, oppression or fraud.

In addition to the $13,855,950 awarded in compensatory damages, the defendants will be responsible for Yoni’s funeral and burial expenses, which amounted to $24,282, and medical expenses of $5,234. Cal-West will be responsible for 15 percent of those damages, as well.

The amount of compensatory damages is lower than the $20 million that the family’s attorney, Barry Cappello, had sought from the jury. Meanwhile, attorneys for the defendants argued that $1 million to $2 million would be more appropriate.

Although the $13.9 million has been awarded to Yoni’s estate, the jury must still determine what the defendants’ punitive damages will be. The punitive damages, a result of being found guilty of willful misconduct, serve to punish or make an example of the losing parties.

The jury will listen to testimony for those damages from the attorneys at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle’s courtroom.

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

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