Jury Told Hotel Should Pay $68M For Child’s Near-Drowning In Hot Tub

Posted by David Siegel on May 26, 2021 3:56:31 PM

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CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Deborah Chang delivering her closing argument 

Santa Ana, CA - A California state court jury heard closing arguments on Tuesday in a lawsuit over a child’s near-drowning in a hot tub that could result in a Howard Johnson hotel being found liable for $68 million in damages.

Attorneys for the hotel and plaintiff Angelique Anderson, whose daughter Journey Hudson allegedly suffered severe brain damage after fainting in an overheated hot tub, delivered their closing arguments in a long-running trial in Orange County Superior Court that initially got underway on April 21st.

The trial stems from an accident in 2015, when Hudson, who was six at the time, and her family stayed at the Howard Johnson during a trip to Disneyland. After being left alone in a supposedly overheated hot tub in the hotel’s water park, Hudson was found face down and not breathing.

The hotel denies any responsibility for the accident, maintaining that Anderson failed to properly supervise her daughter, and that Hudson developed brain damage as the result of a viral infection unrelated to the the hot tub.

The full proceedings were recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network, and they are available on-demand as part of a subscription to CVN’s trial video library.

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Attorney Deborah Chang of Athea Trial Lawyers, representing Anderson, told jurors that after Hudson was retrieved from the hot tub, that she was negligently laid on hot concrete for 21 minutes that badly worsened the hyperthermia she already developed in the hot tub.

“It burned her back. It melted her brain,” Chang said.

Chang told jurors that the hotel installed a waterpark to attract more families, and that knowing their facility would be used by children required the hotel to take safety precautions that it supposedly failed to implement, such as building a physical barrier between the hot tub and features of the park like children’s waterslides.

“Make no mistake, their target was children,” Chang said. “With that comes great responsibility.”

Chang argued that drownings and hyperthermia are “not a question of if, but when” at waterparks like these, but that the hotel didn’t take adequate steps to monitor the temperature of the hot tub or provide enough safety supervision for children playing in the park, claiming that on the day of the accident the park was staffed by just one 18-year-old attendant who was new to the job.

Hudson will never live an independent life, according to Chang, who told jurors that she needs assistance with basic tasks like tying her shoes and crossing the street.

“All of these are things that every one of us take for granted but she will never be able to do by herself,” Chang said. During opening statements, Chang’s co-counsel Zoe Littlepage previously told jurors the accident cost Hudson 58 IQ points and rendered her a “forever child.”

Chang concluded her closing by playing home movies of Hudson prior to the accident, juxtaposed by footage taken afterwards of Hudson showing noticeably different behavior.

Representing Howard Johnson, attorney Dana Fox of Lewis Brisbois placed the blame for the accident squarely on Anderson’s allegedly failing to properly supervise her daughter.

“Every parent knows you never leave a young child alone in or near water,” Fox said.

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CVN screenshot of defense attorney Dana Fox delivering his closing argument 

He cited testimony from Anderson that he said showed she ignored warning signs saying there were no lifeguards on duty, and that she could have pulled Hudson out of the hot tub in time to prevent any serious injury if she’d been paying better attention.

“It’s a cold hard fact,” Fox said. “If she’s there and pulls this child out within 10 or 20 seconds, or a minute, you do not have what they claim is brain damage due to lack of oxygen to the brain.”

Fox argued that no legal requirement exist to put hot tubs in waterparks behind physical barriers. He also addressed Hudson being laid on hot ground by noting that backboards are not legally required in aquatic facilities without lifeguards.

Fox told jurors that type of brain damage Hudson's attorneys claim she suffered leaves telltale signs on an MRI, but that they were absent on Hudson's brain scans. 

“This is what you’d be seeing, and it’s not there,” he said, while also citing medical records that he argued proved Hudson contracted hand foot and mouth disease, which can cause swelling of the brain, prior to going in the hot tub.  

Fox characterized the damages Chang asked for as “whoppers of numbers” and stressed to jurors that his discussing what damages might be reasonable to award does not mean he’s conceding any liability on the part of the hotel.

“Hopefully the next 10 minutes is going to be a waste of your time,” he said, before suggesting to jurors a reasonable amount of compensation for Hudson’s non-economic damages would be between $5-7.5 million, in addition to taking issue with a proposed life care plan for Hudson that he argued was excessive. 

The jury’s deliberations continued into Wednesday, and CVN will provide an update if and when a verdict is reached.

The case is captioned Journey Hudson v. Great American Land Company, case number 30-2019-01052572-CU, in the Superior Court of California in Orange County.

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Topics: Negligence, California