A jury in Santa Monica, California, has found Tommy Lee not negligent in the death of a 4-year-old boy who drowned during a pool party at his Malibu home in July 2001.
“Although I am relieved that the court has found me not negligent, there are no winners in this sad situation,” Lee said in a statement issued late Thursday.
The jury of nine women and three men deliberated for an hour on Wednesday and less than two hours on Thursday, according to a court clerk at the Los Angeles Superior Court.
The parents of Daniel Karven-Veres had sought millions of dollars in their wrongful death suit, claiming Lee had failed to provide a lifeguard or at least someone who knew CPR at the party. “No adult, hired professional, lifeguard or otherwise, was designated to ensure the safety of the young children swimming in the pool and to be responsible in the event life-saving procedures were necessary,” the lawsuit said.
Lee’s attorney, Jim Barrata, argued Lee was not at fault, but that the responsibility for Daniel’s safety laid with his caretakers. Lee testified that every child at the gathering had an adult supervising them, and in Daniel’s case, his care seemed to shift from one party to another. Daniel’s parents, German actress Ursula Karven and James Veres, did not accompany him to the party but sent him with his male caretaker, Christian Weihs, who then left him with Judith Zeihm, a nanny to two of Daniel’s classmates.
Karven testified last week that she had would not have sent Daniel without his water wings had she known the birthday celebration for Lee’s son Brandon was a pool party. Daniel, who would have been 6 last week, could not swim.
Zeihm testified on Tuesday that she agreed to drive Daniel home after Weihs left to go to a concert, but she wouldn’t say she was responsible for his safety. When Barrata asked Zeihm if she felt responsible for Daniel’s death, she said she didn’t remember and then admitted bolting from Lee’s house shortly after rescue workers arrived. Judge Richard Neidorf had rejected Lee’s bid to have Zeihm named as a co-defendant due to lack of evidence.
Deliberations began Wednesday following closing arguments, during which the parents’ attorney, Thomas Girardi, told the jury that $10 million would be a suitable damage award. “It would have been so easy for this terrible thing not to take place,” Girardi said in his closing argument, according to wire service reports.
Barrata had countered that even if the jury did find Lee to be at fault, they should award no more than $1 million.
“We feel it was a terrible tragedy for the parents, so we don’t take any type of pleasure in the verdict,” Barrata said Friday (April 17), “but we do feel Tommy was vindicated, particularly because the jury decision was unanimous.”
Lawyers for Daniel’s parents had planned to call Pamela Anderson to counter Lee’s testimony, but Neidorf ruled against it, saying her testimony would be too prejudicial.