Family claims $900,000 for toddler death at Cummins Falls

The family of a 2-year-old drowning victim has filed a claim against the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for their child’s death. The toddler’s death occurred at Cummins Falls State Park in early June, when a sudden flash flood engulfed the area near the falls. David Randolph Smith & Associates represents the family.

The child’s parents, Curtis and Hannah Pierce, allege that their son’s death was a direct result of state’s failure to install a flash flood warning system at the falls. This recent tragedy marks the eleventh death at Cummins Falls in the past ten years.

Family trip turns into tragedy

Curtis and Hannah Pierce had traveled from their hometown of Eddyville, Kentucky for a weekend trip to the park, taking their two-year-old son Steven with them. The trip to the falls was uneventful at first, until park rangers ordered an immediate evacuation in anticipation of an incoming flash flood. 

The family joined 61 other visitors in a rushed evacuation from the falls, with Curtis Pierce carrying Steven in his arms. As they attempted to cross a gorge, a sudden rush of water tore Steven out of his father’s grasp. Mr. Pierce and Steven were both swept away. Mr. Pierce was found alive later that evening. The next day, rescue crews recovered his son’s body. 

Gross negligence claim for state’s failure to install warning system

The Pierces, represented by the wrongful death attorneys at David Randolph Smith & Associates, filed a claim for damages against the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The family seeks $300,000 each for Steven and his parents ($900,000 total), the maximum damages available under state law. 

The Pierces claim that the state is liable for their son’s death due to its failure to install an adequate safety warning system at the falls. In addition to Steven Pierce, six other individuals have died at Cummins Falls in the past decade, including two women who drowned during a similar flash flood in 2017. After the 2017 tragedy, the park announced its intention to install a warning system at the falls to give visitors adequate time to evacuate. This plan was never implemented.

Curtis and Hannah Pierce maintain that a warning system could have been the difference between life and death for their toddler son. They allege that the state’s failure to install such a system, in the face of a glaring need and recurring tragedies, constitutes gross negligence sufficient to support a wrongful death claim. 

Toddler required to return life jacket before evacuating falls

An early report of the tragedy, obtained from a Cummins Falls park ranger, stated that Steven Pierce was not wearing a life jacket at the time of the toddler’s death. However, photographs obtained from his parents show that Steven was wearing park-provided life jacket on the day in question. Mr. Pierce stated that the life jackets were available to the public at a stand near the base of the falls. When the family received orders to evacuate, however, they were required to leave Steven’s life jacket at the stand.

Unfortunately, the large pool of water at the falls was not the only flooded area. The family evacuated via a gorge leading out of the park, which quickly flooded with water overflowing from the falls. It was here that Steven and his father were fatally separated, not long after returning Steven’s life jacket.

The state has a maximum of 90 days to prepare a response to the Pierces’ claim. If the state denies their claim, the Pierces state that they intend to file a lawsuit via the wrongful death attorneys at David Randolph Smith & Associates.

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