Suing the chaperone

by Ted Frank on June 17, 2008

18-year-old Lauren Crossan, captain of the Randolph (New Jersey) High School cheerleading squad on a trip to the Hula Bowl, plunged naked to her death from a ninth-floor hotel balcony in Maui in 2004. Police arrested two California men who were staying in the hotel room, but then decided that the death was an alcohol-related accident–Crossan had a BAC of 0.17. (The men told police that they fell asleep while Crossan was still in the room after one had sex with her, and didn’t know what happened to her. Police say there was no evidence of sexual contact or of a struggle.) (AP, “Police: Cheerleader’s death an accident”, Jan. 15, 2004; Gary T. Kubota, “Tests show cheerleader was not on illegal drugs”, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Jan. 27, 2004; memorial site with obnoxious music).

This was, Crossan’s parents decided, the fault of Hyatt and of Susanne Sadler, the mother of one of the cheerleaders on the Hula Bowl trip, who was allegedly acting as a chaperone for Crossan. The Hyatt suit was “resolved”; an arbitrator awarded $690,000 against Ms. Sadler–reduced from $1.15 million, because the adult Crossan was held 40% responsible for her decision to get drunk, go to a 20-year-old’s room, strip off her clothes, and do whatever it was that led her to fatally invoke the law of gravity. Of course, this is the sort of award that is likely to simply deter chaperoning rather than anything else. Sadler herself claims that she was just there with her own cheerleader daughter, and hadn’t agreed to chaperone, though this may just be a self-serving claim since she did make all of the travel arrangements for the group. (Brian Perry, “Arbitrator finds chaperon responsible for teen’s death”, Maui News, May 16; “Chaperone to pay $690K in Randolph teen’s demise”, Daily Record, Jun. 2 (plus interesting comments from people claiming to be local Randolph residents); AP/FoxNews, “Parents Fear Accompanying Students on Trips After Accidental Death Award”, Jun. 16 (h/t F.R.)). Crossan’s family’s hatred of Sadler extends to charging her with harassment for leaving flowers at Crossan’s memorial. (AP/Honolulu Star-Bulletin, “Chaperone charged with harassment”, May 30).

None of the press coverage indicates why the Volunteer Protection Act did not apply.

Note that the streamlined procedures of an arbitration benefits plaintiffs as well as defendants: the parties saved legal expenses; got to trial months ahead of when they would have; Sadler may not appeal, and Crossan’s parents will be able to collect comparatively quickly.

{ 18 comments }

1 Melvin H. 06.17.08 at 9:55 am

From the “Star-Bulletin” ‘s story, last sentence:

“An autopsy showed Crossan had a blood alcohol level of .17, more than twice the legal drinking limit of .08 percent.”

“Legal drinking limit”?? Didn’t know there was a “drinking” limit in Hawaii; must mean “DRIVING” limit.

And the girl–no, woman–was a 20-year-old in high school?? What am I missing here–someone who was still underage, but drank herself to a .170 BAC, and the “chaperone” was 40% at fault? What about the two men supposedly in the room with the Crossen woman?

For that matter, if the late Ms. Crossan was 20 at the time of her death . . . why was she still in high school?

2 Melvin H. 06.17.08 at 10:05 am

OOPS–correction to above post; she was 18 at the time of her death; the “men in her room” were 19 and 20 then (were they ever identified in any story?).

3 DAV 06.17.08 at 10:29 am

MH: “if the late Ms. Crossan was 20 at the time of her death . . . why was she still in high school?”

Star Bulletin said: “Lauren Crossan, 18, of Randolph …”

Yeah, the “drinking limit” vs. “driving limit” was a funny typo. I guess it just goes to show that “drinking” and “driving” don’t mix well.

Strange that they see leaving flowers on a grave as harassment. Only in NJ I guess. Maybe it’s a Soprano thing.

4 David Wisniewski 06.17.08 at 11:07 am

Note that the streamlined procedures of an arbitration benefits plaintiffs as well as defendants: the parties saved legal expenses; got to trial months ahead of when they would have; Sadler may not appeal, and Crossan’s parents will be able to collect comparatively quickly.”

I don’t see anything to indicate the Plaintiff’s “will be able to collect comparatively quickly” How many people do you know that have $690,000 lying around?

Also, how did this matter get to arb? Did the parties agree to it before hand? Since arb is private, it is impossible to review the record in the arb and see if the arbitrator followed the law and applied the facts to the law. How exactly did arb “benefit” the defendants? They got sued over what seems like a bogus matter and lost at arb and are now (seemingly) stuck with the arbitrator’s decision.

5 Deoxy 06.17.08 at 11:22 am

How exactly did arb “benefit” the defendants? They got sued over what seems like a bogus matter and lost at arb and are now (seemingly) stuck with the arbitrator’s decision.

It was resolved more quickly and with fewer court fees.

No one is claiming that arbitration will always be RIGHT, only that it will be right as often (or moreso) than going to court, AND it will be cheaper.

Wrong decitions happen in every system involving human beings. If we’ve got to get it wrong, let’s at least to do cheaply.

6 Adam 06.17.08 at 11:25 am

I gotta agree with David on this one. While the parties may have saved alot of money in legal expenses and saved time, what does it matter if arb clearly didn’t get it right. Can you appeal this arb ruling? Someone is going to have to start an arbitration reform website soon.

I tend to agree with you Ted on most things, but what recourse does Sadler have? I’m not a lawyer so I might be missing alot here.

7 jim 06.17.08 at 11:26 am

Sad case. I hope the parents find their monetary award adequate compensation for their inability to instill good values in their daughter. Sneaking out, underage drinking and sex with a person she just met, and finally a naked plunge from the balcony. Somehow this is 60 percent Ms. Sadler’s fault. Pressing harassment charges for the woman leaving flowers at their daughters grave – good show there. I take it that the defendant is not allowed to have any grief, but can have accountability.

From one of the Maui articles it appears that the plantiff’s lawyer suggested this. The defendant must have been worried about leaving this in a jury’s hands and decided that this was the best route.

Apparently, it wasn’t. Can’t say what I’d do in this position, but the “professionals” always seem to play the percentages. Maybe a jury of “her peers” would have gone even higher or dismissed it all together.

8 gitarcarver 06.17.08 at 12:05 pm

Crossan family attorney James Krueger called the arbitrator’s decision a “very conservative and fair award.”

“I think the award was within a reasonable range,” Krueger said. “I could see it doubled without batting an eye because of the severity of the grief these parents suffered.”

Well, at least it is not about the money. That is confirmed by the last article from the Honolulu Star Bulletin that has this lead:
A chaperone who accompanied a cheerleader to Hawaii, where she died in a fall, faces a harassment charge after police say the woman visited the girl’s grave against the family’s wishes.

Leaving flowers at the girl’s grave is “harrassment?”

Good grief.

9 jim 06.17.08 at 12:38 pm

http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2007/Nov/09/br/br0485321769.html

I looked around for other Krueger cases when I saw him described as an attorney experienced in cases where a minor is injured in the company of someone other than thier parent.

10 Daniel Sochor 06.17.08 at 4:15 pm

Very sad story. Do we know how high the hotel balcony railing was? I think they should be 4+ feet high, low enough to put one’s elbows on and keep most of one’s body and weight on the balcony but not so low that a person in an exuberant mood might be able to lean too far over.

11 Deoxy 06.17.08 at 5:40 pm

I tend to agree with you Ted on most things, but what recourse does Sadler have? I’m not a lawyer so I might be missing alot here.

This website documents a great many cases where the victim of a manifestly unjust legal verdict has exhausted their “recourses” without satisfaction. That this can happen in arbitration does not make arbitration any worse than the status quo.

Now, if it happens MORE often than it does than in the current system, well, that’s a problem, of course, but a single instance doesn’t show that.

12 MF 06.17.08 at 8:00 pm

Leaving flowers at the girl’s grave is “harrassment?”

Good grief.

Actually, that would be BAD grief!

13 William Nuesslein 06.18.08 at 8:15 am

How did the arbitrator come up with the sums? The woman/girl had no dependents, and any lose would be for psychological pain. Those loses are not routinely compensated for the several thousand suicides each year, or for automobile accidents where clever lawyers can not develop a theory involving guilt.

14 Ron Miller 06.18.08 at 10:27 am

What scares me about this kind of story is that it is so outrageous it makes you wonder exactly what facts were not included. We already see many of the reported facts are wrong. Agreed upon arbitrators are usually not crazy. I suspect there is a “oh that makes sense” fact or two missing.

Besides, what exactly is the moral of the story here? We can’t trust agreed upon arbitrators? Should we just stop allowing people to bring personal injury claims of any kind in any forum?

15 Ted Frank 06.18.08 at 10:32 am

#14: [W]hat exactly is the moral of the story here?

How about “Injustice results when you’re allowed to blame third parties for adults’ volitional acts that injure themselves”? That is obvious common sense that seems to be beaten out of law students such that an attorney can leave a comment finding it mysterious why there is even an issue. That’s not the arbitrator’s fault; that’s the appalling state of American tort law.

16 Jim Collins 06.18.08 at 6:19 pm

Last time I checked a person is an ADULT at the age of 18. How can Sadler be a chaperone for an adult? I can understand having chaperones for the cheerleaders who are under the age of 18, but this shouldn’t apply to Crossan.

17 Rose 06.19.08 at 2:42 pm

If the story represents all the facts, then there is only one person responsible, the 18 year woman herself. It is a tragic story, but someone needs to wake parents up and make them realize that when something tragic happens to their kids, it’s not necessarily anyone else’s fault.

18 Freakazoid 06.22.08 at 3:26 am

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