Drowning results in two lawsuits

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JAN. 20 — The parents of a 10-year-old boy who died on Lake Michigan last August have filed separate lawsuits in federal court against the estate of an Illinois boater who, they claim, contributed in their son’s death.

Phyllis Emmerling, the mother of David Emmerling, filed a $5 million lawsuit Tuesday against the estate of John Semkus, claiming he negligently invited her, David, and her other son, 9-year-old Jeffrey, to swim alongside his 22-foot Maxum while anchored about four miles off Winthrop Harbor, Ill.

Phyllis Emmerling’s lawsuit also claims that Semkus should have recognized a current running away from his boat, and once the boys and their mother began drifting away, he should have pulled anchor and taken the boat to them rather than dive in after them, news reports say.

Just after sunset Aug. 9, the water on the lake reportedly became choppy and Phyllis Emmerling and her sons started drifting away from Semkus’ boat. Semkus dove into the 65-degree water to help them get back, but later drowned. Phyllis Emmerling and her sons reportedly swam for nearly nine hours and reached shore in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., but David was later pronounced dead from hypothermia at an area hospital.

The boy’s father, who is also named David Emmerling, filed his own lawsuit in Federal court Friday morning. David Emmerling’s lawyer, Richard Kopsick, says his client has nothing to do with the lawsuit that Phyllis Emmerling, David Emmerling’s soon-to-be ex-wife, filed.

“My client is the legally appointed administrator of his son’s estate,” Kopsick says. “Pursuant to that authority, my client’s intention is to file a lawsuit alleging that other parties improperly caused the death of his son. Those parties are John Semkus and Phyllis Emmerling.

“When a little boy dies and leaves behind not only his parents but also four siblings, there is a tremendous loss for everyone involved,” Kopsick continues. “There is also a tremendous value placed on that loss, when the time is right.”

Kopsick declined to comment on the details of his client’s lawsuit. Phyllis Emmerling’s lawyer, Robert Lunz, could not be reached for comment.

Click here for a more comprehensive account of the incident, as reported in the November 2005 issue of Soundings.

— Jason Fell