Two years after Michael Placide drowned in the swimming pool at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, and died three days later in the Hackensack University Medical Center, the Tenafly institution is facing a lawsuit from his family.
Michael turned 9 in the hospital two days before he died.
The suit asks for unspecified financial damages for Michael’s death, pain, and suffering, and for the emotional distress suffered by his mother, Celia Placide, a nanny who worked in Englewood and had taken her son to the pool for a special birthday treat.
The suit was filed in June in Kings County supreme court in Brooklyn, where the Placide family lives.
“We deny the allegations of the lawsuit and have filed our response with the court,” the JCC’s CEO, Jordan Shenker, wrote in an email.
“We have to get discovery,” Frank Torres said. Mr. Torres, an attorney with the Long Island-based law firm Duffy & Duffy, is representing the plaintiffs.
He doesn’t expect that process to begin until late September at the earliest.
The suit accuses the JCC of negligence.
The JCC, the suit alleges, “failed to train its employees; failed to employ qualified staff; failed to hire competent staff; lacked appropriate training; failed to recognize that [Michael] was drowning; failed to implement procedures to rescue victims; failed to maintain the aforementioned pool in a reasonably safe condition; failed to exercise reasonable care; failed to maintain an adequate degree of general supervision; failed to supervise the pool and its swimmers; failed to come to the aid of the victim; failed to remove the infant from the pool; failed to act promptly and remove the infant from the water; failed to check the slopes of the pool; failed to discover the body of the infant; failed to initiate CPR; and failed to notify rescuers.”
The suit further alleges that the JCC, “its agents, servants, employees and/or representatives, had actual and/or constructive notice of the aforesaid condition(s), and/or created and caused same.”
In a statement, Mr. Shenker said, “First and foremost, our hearts go out to the family of this tragic accident. As an organization that plays a central role for thousands of people within our community, the entire staff and board of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades works tirelessly to ensure the safety and security of those who utilize our facilities every day. We take all incidents and complaints seriously but given that legal action is pending we are unable to publically respond to these unsubstantiated allegations.”
In 2016, the Tenafly police department issued a report on the incident that found there was no cause for criminal charges. But it quoted witnesses who described chaos when Michael was pulled from the pool.
His mother told police that she was in the pool with Michael and her employer’s child and that she took her eyes off her son only for a moment.
The police report said that Michael was unconscious and had no pulse when he was taken out of the pool. He had been in the big pool, which graduates in depth from 4 to 9 feet; there also are two smaller pools for young children. The big pool has three lifeguard stations; there were only two lifeguards on duty when Michael went under.
The police report includes an interview with a swimmer who bumped into the boy floating in the pool in a fetal position, bubbles coming from his mouth. She tried to get him out but she could not, so she screamed for help from the lifeguard. The lifeguard jumped in and got Michael out; the witness ran into the main building and called 911.
Another swimmer helped the lifeguard carry Michael from the pool, moved him into the shade, saw that he was vomiting and that white foam was coming from his nose, and cleaned him. She watched as a JCC employee administered CPR; according to the report, she was concerned because it seemed to her to take between one to three minutes to begin CPR.
Two witnesses were concerned about the time it took to administer first aid after Michael had been removed from the pool, and others added there was no defibrillator at the pool, although eventually one was found in the main building.