The Missouri Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit against Ameren, claiming the company was responsible for the deaths of two children at the Lake of the Ozarks.
The Court handed down its opinion Tuesday afternoon after Angela Anderson appealed earlier decisions to dismiss the wrongful death suit, first filed in 2013. Anderson’s two children, Alexandra, 13, and Brayden, 8, died on July 4, 2012, when a stray electrical current shocked them in the lake near the family’s dock, causing them to drown.
“I was angry,” Anderson told ABC 17 News of the high court’s opinion.
Union Electric, the owners of the Lake of the Ozarks and the company also known as Ameren Missouri, issues and charges for private dock permits at the lake. Anderson’s lawsuit claims UE did not properly warn dock owners about installation of “ground fault interruption” devices, or GFIs, along the shoreline, or require dock owners to have one before the issuance of a permit.
The court’s majority opinion, written by Paul C. Wilson, states UE is immune from these claims under the Recreational Use Act. While the Andersons, and other dock owners, paid a “use fee” for their dock, that fee doesn’t constitute as a “charge” for using the Lake of the Ozarks for recreation. Therefore, UE isn’t required “to give any general or specific warning with respect to any natural or artificial condition” of the Lake of the Ozarks.
While the Andersons had GFIs installed around their outlets, they did not have a GFI on the front of their dock – a regulation Ameren included in inspections for docks built after 2006. However, old docks already with permits, like the ones the Andersons and several others own, may not come with them.
“The next time someone else dies, are we going to see the same exact story, and we’re going to hear the same exact fire districts and personnel coming up and just telling us what all the issues are?” Anderson asked. “That’s not what we need. We need change.”
Missouri House Representative Caleb Jones introduced theAlexandra and Brayden Anderson Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Act, which would require State Water Patrol members to train in saving victims of electrocution in the water. It also would establish penalties for failing to have docks or marinas up to 2011 National Fire Protection Association standards, including imprisonment for any deaths related to electrocution near docks.
The bill was never taken up by the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
Ultimately, Anderson believes the responsibility of proper inspections of all docks belongs with Ameren.
“There’s only one entity that can truly take care of this problem, and they’re choosing not to,” Anderson said. “And it’s sickening.
When asked about an interview regarding the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision, Ameren Missouri sent a brief statement.
“Ameren Missouri is pleased with the Supreme Court of Missouri’s decision. We would like to again express sympathy to the Anderson family.”