TRAVERSE CITY — The city of Traverse City likely won’t be held liable for a Mancelona teen’s electrocution and drowning death in Clinch Park’s marina.
Michigan Court of Appeals judges on Thursday dismissed city harbormaster Barry Smith from negligence lawsuits filed after Michael Knudsen’s 2011 death, and sent the case back to 13th Circuit Court to make that action official.
The city appealed 13th Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power’s 2013 decision that dismissed the city, marina and former city Director of Public Services Robert Cole from the case based on governmental immunity, though not Smith. He ruled a jury would have to decide whether Smith acted in a grossly negligent manner.
Attorney Gretchen Olsen, who represented the city in the trial court, said appellate judges’ decision vindicated Smith and effectively removes the city from the case.
“I think that the Court of Appeals agreed with us on every argument that we had made before the trial court,” she said.
An electrical leak and faulty ground system killed Knudsen, 18, when he swam from a floating dock in the marina. An autopsy report listed Knudsen’s cause of death as asphyxia by drowning because of low voltage electrocution.
Knudsen’s family and Zachary Kott-Millard, who felt an electrical current when he jumped into the water to help his friend, filed suits against the city and also the electricians and contractors who renovated the marina.
Downstate attorney Geoffrey Fieger’s office represents the Knudsen family and Kott-Millard. Fieger’s office did not return calls for comment.
Court documents state the lawsuits accused both Cole and Smith of gross negligence because of questions about whether they’d been informed of an electricity danger in the water.
Several witnesses described feeling electricity in the water near the dock that summer, according to the documents. Two witnesses said they had seen arcing light and heard a loud buzzing noise the day before the incident, but did not report it.