The parents of an eight-year-old girl who had a thumb amputated in 2019 after it was crushed by a gate at a City of Willcox park are seeking general and punitive damages for what they claim was gross negligence by the city, Rex Allen Days organizers, and a local youth soccer group.
“The injuries suffered by (the girl) were foreseeable,” the Oct. 1 lawsuit alleges. “Upon information and belief, employees and/or agents of the Defendants knew of
The dangerous condition of the north gate, and failed to remediate the danger or to prevent the use of City of Willcox property by others knowing that it was not safe for use.”
A negligence lawsuit need only provide a brief statement of the factual basis of any alleged count upon which relief is being requested. But in March, the girl’s parents submitted a $4.85 million notice of claim to the city that disclosed several details of the Oct. 5, 2019 incident.
A notice of claim must be made at least 60 days before a public entity in Arizona can be sued in state court. The process gives the entity an option to resolve a claim without litigation.
The parents’ notice of claim contended that the girl’s injury “could have been avoided if Defendant has complied with its duties and remedied the unsafe condition posted by the north gate at Keiller Park.” It also explained how the girl came to be injured and the heroic efforts by surgeons at a trauma hospital in Tucson to save the girl’s thumb.
According to the notice of claim, the girl and her parents attended the Rex Allen Days parade earlier that day, then drove to Keiller Park to attend the Cars for Kids car show at the park’s soccer fields. The car show was sponsored by the local chapter of the American Youth Soccer Organization.
The north gate to Keiller Park by the soccer fields were made of tubular metal, with two arms which swing open and closed. A post with metal stops prevented the arms from swinging fully open in one direction, but the parents allege over time the friction of the metal arms hitting the metal stops caused “razor-sharp” edges the stops.
Once parked, the girl followed a pathway toward the car show. The pathway ran adjacent to the north gate which provided access to the soccer fields, the claim states.
The girl purportedly sat on one of the three-foot tall arms and held on to the stop post. But the hinged arm was slack, which allowed it to sway toward the stop. This put the girl’s thumb between the metal arm and metal stop, according to the claim.
“Unfortunately, they were blissfully unaware that the City of Willcox had created an extremely dangerous condition with which (the girl) was about to have a life-altering interaction,” the claim states.
The result was the girl’s thumb was crushed and partially severed “as if it had been placed in a guillotine,” the claim states. In addition to the laceration, Banner UMC surgical specialists found serious damage to the thumb’s tendons and crushed blood vessels.
After four days in the trauma center’s pediatric ICU the girl underwent surgery for a full amputation of the thumb below the joint.
The lawsuit also names the Rex Allen Days organization as a defendant based on its Facilities Use Agreement with Willcox to use Keiller Park for various activities. The youth soccer organization is named for similar reasons.
Once served with the complaint, each defendant will have 20 days to file their respective answer with the court. A demand for a jury trial has been made by the parents, meaning any trial will likely not take place until late 2021 or even early 2020. A fiduciary services company has been appointed by the court to act as conservator in the event the girl is awarded damages.
The civil complaint involving the thumb injury was filed just weeks after city officials and the American Youth Soccer Organization were sued for injuries suffered by another girl at Keiller Park.
In that case, the girl suffered a gruesome leg injury on Sept. 14, 2019 while riding on a city utility trailer during a parade celebrating opening day of the soccer season. Public records show the driver, who was one of the coaches, placed players on the trailer even though at least one other coach said it was unsafe.
At the end of the parade route the driver hit a bump at an estimated 25 mph speed, causing one of the seated girls to lose her balance. Her right leg was thrust into an open wheel well and was caught in there for about one block before the driver stopped.
“The friction from the tire created such force and such heat that it simultaneously ripped and burned layer after layer off of (the girl’s) leg,” the lawsuit alleges. “She was referred to Banner University Medical Center, where she was underwent debridement and split thickness skin grafting.”
That lawsuit was filed after Willcox City officials rejected a $2.75 million notice of claim. Her parents have also opted for a jury trial at which they will argue for general and punitive damages to cover what is expected to be years of further surgeries.