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.