Family of drowned CA deputy sues Tahoe company for negligence
November 27, 2016
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The family of a man who drowned in Lake Tahoe a little more than a year ago is suing South Tahoe Standup Paddle, claiming that the South Shore establishment's "grossly negligent conduct" was responsible for the man's death.
At the same time, the family hopes to spark legislative efforts that would curb the rental of aquatic recreational equipment, such as kayaks, on Lake Tahoe and other lakes in California during strong winds.
The mother and sister of Carlos "Diamond" Francies filed a complaint requesting a jury trial earlier this month. Francies, a Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy, drowned during a rescue attempt off the shore of El Dorado Beach in August 2015.
Francies and three others, including Kayla Richardson, Francies' sister who is one of the plaintiffs in the suit, had rented kayaks and stand-up paddle boards from South Tahoe Standup Paddle that day.
The Tahoe Daily Tribune could not reach a representative from South Tahoe Standup Paddle.
In their court filing, the family claims South Tahoe SUP failed when it did not inform Francies and the others that a red flag warning was in effect that day.
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Almost immediately after getting on the lake, Francies and his girlfriend, who were on stand-up paddle boards, became separated from Richardson and her friend, according to the court filing. The strong winds caused Richardson's and her friend's kayaks to tip over.
Ben Meiselas, an associate at Geragos & Geragos, the firm representing Francies' family, said the events played out almost instantaneously.
Francies, who was not wearing the life jacket provided by South Tahoe SUP, jumped in the lake to save his sister's friend. Richardson was the only person wearing a life jacket.
Francies, a former football player who Meiselas described as a strong swimmer and overall athlete, "was overtaken by the great force of the winds and waves that day," the suit claims.
The business had a duty not to rent the kayaks and SUP boards while that warning was in effect, the family claims. At no point did any of South Tahoe SUP's employees warn Francies and the others of the dangers during a red flag warning.
Meiselas said it was his understanding that the four had completed some sort of electronic waiver asking renters "to check a box." Even so, a waiver does not shield a proprietor from suits claiming gross negligence, Meiselas stated.
As things stand, the law basically leaves these findings to the court.
"The short answer is the way the law is weighed now is it's the responsibility of each proprietor to exercise reasonable care, and that standard is objectively assessed by a court … " Meiselas said.
The family hopes to change that through legislation that would prohibit businesses from renting kayaks and other aquatic recreational equipment while red flag warnings are in place. They are calling the law "Diamond's Law."
One would think such procedures would be in place, but they are not, Meiselas said, adding that some third-world countries have greater regulations than here in California. Businesses need to do a better job educating customers on the potential dangers during high winds.
The law would likely extend beyond Lake Tahoe to other scenic bodies of water in the state.
"I really am optimistic that Diamond's Law is going to be passed because it makes so much sense," Meiselas said. "If this can happen to Diamond, this can happen to anyone."