Child Drowns in Septic Tank Near Jacksonville, Florida… Who is to Blame?

Amari Harl

Photo Provided by Family – via Jacksonville.com

On October 22, 2017, a child’s body was found in an underground septic tank at Bruce Park in Jacksonville, Florida. A day earlier, three-year-old Amari Harley went missing from a family birthday party in the park, and it’s believed that the child fell into the underground tank and drowned. Such accidental death of a child is a tragedy for the family and raises several questions regarding liability, responsibility, and blame for a child wrongful death in Florida.

Negligence Involved in Amari Harley’s Death

While certainly an accident, certain evidence around Amari Harley’s death indicates that it was preventable. In January of 2017, a Jacksonville resident filed a complaint with the city that the septic tank where Amari was drowned was uncovered. The City of Jacksonville took action at that time, but within a month of those repairs had to re-secure the same septic tank cover after it failed a routine inspection.

In September, the septic tank and the heavy, rubber covering that enclosed the tank passed inspection, but just days before Amari’s death a man claims he nearly fell into the uncovered septic tank and planned to file a complaint. The same resident says the only covering for the underground septic tank at the time of Amari Harley’s death was made of a lightweight plastic.

After these earlier complaints, the City of Jacksonville, which owns Bruce Park, appeared to take limited action and provided mediocre solutions to an ongoing problem with this underground septic tank. In the wake of Amari’s death, these solutions seem inadequate and even negligent. So, is the City of Jacksonville to blame for the child’s death and can Amari Harley’s family hold the municipality responsible for a child wrongful death in Florida?

Blame and Consequence for Florida Municipalities

Following the drowning of Amari Harley, the City of Jacksonville replaced the rubber/plastic septic tank covering with a heavier, concrete lid. This is only a temporary solution, as the Mayor of Jacksonville has required the review of safety and security measures in Bruce Park and other city property. The expectation is a best practice and standardized solution for all septic tank lids in each of the 76 city parks.

While this safety review and subsequent action may prevent another child death or serious injury, but it offers limited recourse to Amari Harley’s family. The family can bring a claim against the City of Jacksonville. In Florida, if the government or governmental employee acts in a negligent manner, and such negligence results in the death of a child or other individual, a wrongful death action is possible.

Through a civil action, surviving family members can seek compensation and other damages against the City of Jacksonville for negligence in the death of Amari Harley. However, in Florida negligence and wrongful death claims against the state, counties, cities, and other governmental entities are separate and distinct from other personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.

Suing the City of Jacksonville (or Miami, Orlando, or Destin)

A specific provision of Florida law allows citizens to bring civil lawsuits against a governmental body or government employee. This provision provides a means and path for these lawsuits, but also imposes specific restrictions. The restrictions are meant to prevent extortion and waste of public funds, but make it far more difficult for victim and their families to

The rules, procedures, and timing for lawsuits against a municipality or country in Florida are specific and should be clarified by a wrongful death attorney familiar with similar cases. As well, the amount of damages allowed in such lawsuits is capped. Currently, a claim against a city, such as Jacksonville or Miami, cannot be in excess of $300,000 per incident. Even in a situation, such as the loss of a child, it is incredibly difficult to receive an exception to this $300,000 cap.

Civil Claim Against a Governmental Entity

Several serious injuries and negligent deaths occur on the governmental property each year. Often, those injured or affected by these accidents aren’t aware that legal recourse is available in these situations. If you or a loved one was hurt on a public sidewalk, in a library or other building owned by a municipality, or in a city park, contact Aronfeld Trial Lawyers.

You can schedule a complimentary consultation with Aronfeld Trial Lawyers by calling 1-866-597-4529 or (305)-441-0440. Alternatively, reach our South Florida office 24/7 by email at [email protected].

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