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Dixon v. Chicago Board of Education

March 31, 1999

VERONICA ANN DIXON, AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF TIFFANY DIXON, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CHICAGO BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



96 L 11022

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wolfson

HONORABLE SOPHIA H. HALL, JUDGE PRESIDING

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY

On September 21, 1995, during Englewood High School swimming team tryouts, 16 year-old Tiffany Dixon drowned. This case represents a clash of interests--the right to sue a public entity for the death of a child due to its alleged failure to supervise against the legislature's determination to protect that entity from large damage awards.

Veronica Ann Dixon (Dixon) appeals the trial court's order granting summary judgment to the Chicago Board of Education (the Board). We affirm.

FACTS

Englewood High School's swimming team coach Robert Blake (Blake) testified in his deposition:

"Englewood High School's volunteer lifeguard, Randy White, asked Blake for permission to leave the pool area for a short time during swimming team tryouts. Blake responded, "*** okay, I got it, I got it." Blake described supervising the pool: "You're aware of the students in your swimming pool, you know who you have in your lanes or you know about how many kids you have in your lane, and you assign them little partners, watch over each other. You try to put out as many safety procedures as you possibly can. But when you actually start to look at one particular student, that's where you're at, you're focusing there."

When Tiffany entered the pool, Blake was 15-20 yards from her, standing on the pool deck. Blake watched Tiffany as she swam 20 yards from the shallow side of the pool into the deep side. Blake said, "*** [S]he was swimming pretty good and I was very happy about that." As Tiffany approached the end of the pool after swimming nearly 25 yards, Blake observed, "*** she was moving pretty fine. I didn't see any problems at all, nothing with her breathing. I didn't see anything. Moving pretty strong."

Then, Blake turned his attention to another swimmer:

"At that point in time I had other swimmers in the pool. I believe I was watching Mike Washington, *** checking his mechanics as well and see if he was working on his techniques well. So I just scanned him down for a second knowing in my mind at the rate of speed [Tiffany] was moving, that she should reach the end of the pool in time for me to watch Mike and then scan back around and she should have been turning around, coming back at the rate of speed that she was traveling. * * *I went back to check on Tiffany, and I expected her to be at the wall or coming away from the wall, but she wasn't there. I'm looking, where is she at, and that's when I observed that she was at the bottom of the pool."

Blake estimated Tiffany was at the bottom of the pool for "[s]econds" as he watched Mike Washington:

"It had to be under ten seconds or more or less, it had to be right up in there. It wasn't any longer than that because I knew she was still in the water swimming. So as I checked for Mike going down [the length of the pool], scanned, okay, he's fine, I come back, then there she is. It was just like this. It was so quick."

The record also contains three pages of a deposition by Dequita Wade (Wade), another swimmer in the pool at the time of Tiffany's accident. Wade testified she and Tiffany were swimming together. When Wade finished her third lap, she did not see Tiffany swimming and assumed Tiffany had exited the pool. Wade got out of the pool and went into the locker room. Wade ...


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