Man dies of heat exhaustion at country club. $15M. Los Angeles County.
Club member suffers heat exhaustion in locker room, but staff members fail to timely call 911.
- Case Name: Katherine Keck v. Bel-Air Bay Club Ltd.
- Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC704134
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Monday, November 25, 2019
- Date Action was Filed: Monday, April 30, 2018
- Type of Case: Wrongful Death
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Michael Lavanas
Plaintiffs: Katherine Keck
Defendants: Bel-Air Bay Club, Ltd.
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $15,000,000
- Net Verdict or Award: $12,000,000
Award as to each Defendant:
$12,000,000 against Bel-Air Bay Club Ltd.
- Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 20% against decedent William Keck III.
No claim for economic damages was made.
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 3 weeks.
- Jury Deliberation Time: 5 1/2 hours.
- Jury Polls: 10-2 for liability, 9-3 for damages.
Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP by Bruce Broillet and Alan Van Gelder, Santa Monica.
Attorney for the Defendant:
Beach | Cowdrey | Jenkins, LLP by Tom Beach and Paul Singer, Oxnard.
Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
James Leo, M.D., internal medicine, Long Beach.
Michael Fishbein. M.D., cardiovascular pathology, Los Angeles.
Defendant's Medical Expert(s):
William Klein, M.D., pulmonology, Newport Beach.
Mark Eckstein, M.D., emergency medicine, Los Angeles.
Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
Anthony Abbott, FACSM, FNSCA, exercise science, Lighthouse Point, FL.
Defendant's Technical Expert(s):
Stephen Therrat, standard of care.
Facts and Background
Facts and Background:
Plaintiff, age 74, is the mother of decedent William Keck III (age 48 at time of death), who was unmarried and had no children. Billy Keck was part of the very wealthy Keck family. He was a commercial real estate broker. He served on the boards of the WM Keck Foundation and the William M. Keck Jr. Foundations. Those foundations have provided huge grants for the Keck school of medicine at USC, the Keck telescope in Hawaii, Cal-Tech, PBS, the Venice Family Clinic, and a host of other charities and institutions. Keck had a particular commitment to 1736 Shelter for Battered Women and the Theater by the Blind.
On September 3, 2017 William Keck III was playing in a paddle tennis tournament at the Bel-Air Bay Club by the ocean in Pacific Palisades. It was a hot and humid day. Billy played in the tournament for over four hours. Witnesses claim he was warned to take it easy and hydrate and that Billy (who everybody claimed was a competitive guy) didn’t do enough of either.
At 1:10 p.m. Billy took a dip into the ocean for three minutes to cool off. He then went to the club locker room. The locker room had no air conditioning. Billy immediately started complaining of cramps to a locker room attendant. The attendant started massaging Billy's calf. Billy lay down on a bench, then transfered to the floor. The cramping spread to the other calf, then up his legs, and then to his arm. Depending on who you believe, the cramping continued for the next three hours. Keck was sweating and turning red and lying on the floor. The locker room attendants were very concerned and claimed they asked Keck if he wanted to call 911. They claimed Keck said no. They got the Athletic Director involved. They got the Head of Security involved. They got the Lower Club Manager involved.
Everybody employed by the defendant club claimed that Billy was awake and alert and that they offered him water, which he took, Gatorade which he took, and ice packs. They claimed they were friends with Billy, that Billy liked lying on the floor of the locker room and sweating things out and this was typical Billy behavior although the cramping was new.
All of this went on for over three hours. Athletic Director claimed he offered to move Billy to an air conditioned office. He claimed Billy refused. Security and Lower Club Manager claimed they offered Billy a 911 call and he refused. At 4:25 they finally brought a fan up. At 4:59, Billy had trouble breathing and they called 911. Paramedics arrived at 5:04. Billy was turning blue but still awake. About a minute later he passed out. Paramedics rushed him to the hospital. Billy had an arrhythmia about a minute after arriving at Santa Monica-UCLA and was dead a few minutes after he arrived at the hospital. Autopsy results show the arrhythmia was caused by elevated potassium due to heat exhaustion.
Defendant Bel-Air Bay Club knew that Mr. Keck was in a hot locker room with no air conditioning suffering from the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and did not call 911 or move him to a cooler location for over three hours. This not only violated the standard of caree, but it also violated Club policies and training (which included training from the American Heart Association Heartsaver handbook). If someone is cramping, lying on the floor, sweating, and is either getting worse or not getting better the standard of care requires a call to 911 within 30 minutes to no later than an hour. (Regardless of whether the person is awake and declining 911).
Plaintiff's experts established that had 911 been called between 1:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., plaintiff would have survived. Defense expert Eckstein stated that if 911 had been called as late as 4:30, Keck would have survived. Defendant Club's own outside trainer testified that the rule is, "When in doubt, call 911." Plaintiff disputed claims by the defense that Keck had refused 911 or an offer to be moved to a cool place and impeached defendant employees on this point.
Plaintiff also contended that it didn't matter if Keck had refused. Consent is not required to call 911 and after about an hour of this going on you have to question whether Keck's illness had impaired his judgment. Eye witness testimony also impeached claims that Keck's judgment was intact. The Club did not train all of its employees, and did not drill the employees who had been trained, so that their skills decayed. Studies show that without drills and rehearsals, most first aid training/CPR skills are lost within a few months of training. Club staff may have been certified, but they were not qualified. The lack of training also became a problem because the Club staff were not properly communicating. The locker room attendants did not know to provide critical information to the managers and the managers did not think to ask for critical information.
William Keck III was an active and well-loved member of the Club, who had friendships with the Club staff. Keck had a history of lying down in the hot locker room to sweat things out and his presentation on the day of his death seemed typical. Keck was not impaired by the illness and turned down multiple offers to call 911, call his family, and call a doctor. If 911 had been called earlier, Keck would have been too stubborn to agree to medical care/transport and without Keck's consent there is no causation.
Keck had a history of overdoing it during paddle tennis in the past and had turned down help from a member in the past. There was nothing about Keck's presentation that signaled an emergency situation until 4:59 p.m. and once that happened, the Club immediately called 911, but by then it was too late. The Club employees loved Keck and if they had thought anything was wrong with him, they would not have hesitated to call 911.
Keck was an owner/member and the Club staff are trained to give the owner/members what they want and not to override the wishes of the owner/member. Keck had everything at his finger tips. He was given water, ice, Gatorade, a fan, offers to call for help. He turned down the offers to call for help. Keck was also responsible for his own death because he did not properly hydrate, pre-cool, and modify his paddle tennis playing on the date of his death. The Bel-Air Bay Club is a private social club, not a big-box gym. The Club is not required to call 911 and discharges all of its duties when it makes the offer to call 911 and the member refuses to take up the offer. The Club is protected by the Good Samaritan statute which requires gross negligence or intentional conduct.
Injuries and Other Damages
Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Death of plaintiff's son.
Loss of care, comfort, society, love, and non-economic support of plaintiff's son.
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: None.
- Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: None
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: None
- Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: None.
Demands and Offers
- Defendant §998 Offer: $400,000
The Court denied the Club's attempt to invoke Good Samaritan status because the Club employees were paid staff and as part of their staff duties were required to call 911. The Club staff had a pre-existing duty to call 911 under California law; the Good Samaritan statute was written to preclude alteration to the pre-existing duty.