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Court dismisses part of Huntington Y drowning lawsuit

The Huntington YMCA in Huntington Village is pictured

The Huntington YMCA in Huntington Village is pictured on Nov. 23, 2012. Credit: Ian J. Stark

The State Appellate Division has thrown out part of a lawsuit filed against the Huntington YMCA in the 2008 drowning death of a Greenlawn teen.

The court ruled punitive damages could be taken out of Raymond Dawson v. YMCA of Long Island Inc., et al. The wrongful death and pain and suffering claims can continue, the court said in the decision handed down last month.

YMCA spokesman Mark L. Smith said in a statement that while the agency mourns the loss of Marc Dawson, "the Appellate Division has recognized that there is no basis for punitive damages in this suit, and we believe that it will ultimately be found that the Y and its employees acted appropriately before, during and after this tragic event."

Michael Perrotta, the Huntington-based lawyer representing Dawson's family, said the decision on punitive damages "has nothing to do with the negligence of the Y and its employees" in the drowning.

"I would be surprised if a jury one day doesn't find the Y grossly negligent in causing the death of Marc Dawson," Perrotta said Thursday.

Dawson, a 17-year-old senior at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn and a lifeguard at the YMCA, was on a break on Feb. 18, 2008, and apparently practicing for Navy SEAL training in a 4-foot-deep lap pool when a lifeguard noticed him unconscious at the bottom of the water. He died a week later.

Raymond Dawson, the teen's father, announced plans to sue in the fall of 2008. In March 2013, the State Supreme Court denied a motion by the defendants to dismiss the complaint.

Last month's decision says that the defendants -- in their request for dismissal -- submitted evidence "demonstrating that Marc's actions in taking several deep breaths and then deliberately attempting to remain underwater in the pool as long as possible were the sole proximate cause of his death . . .

"Given that Marc was a certified lifeguard, and based on 'plain common sense,' he should have known that these actions posed a significant danger," the decision says.

The decision also said, however, that triable issues were raised on whether the defendants acted with negligence, specifically in their alleged failure to coax Dawson to surface earlier and their alleged failure to physically remove him from the pool sooner. The decision said the move to dismiss the complaint was properly denied.

The defendants also include two teen lifeguards on duty, an aquatics coordinator and an adult lifeguard who were on the premises.

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