·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

News & Politics

Family Agrees to Settlement After Septic Tank Death Involving 3-Year-Old

— February 26, 2019

After nearly a year and a half, a lawsuit settlement has been reached between the family of Amari Harley and ERS Inc. The suit was filed against ERS Inc. soon after the three-year-old child fell into a septic tank and died.

Amari Harley was only three-years-old when he fell into a septic tank in Jacksonville back on October 22, 2017. Tragically, the child died from the incident and his family filed a lawsuit as a result. Now, a settlement was just reached between Harley’s family and the contractor named in the lawsuit who was “responsible for the septic service at Bruce Park” where the incident occurred. Additional legal action against the city is also in the works, according to the family’s attorney.

Image of a legal gavel
Legal Gavel; image courtesy of Jonathunder via Wikimedia Commons,

The original lawsuit was filed by Amari’s mother, Jasmine Bates, who is represented by attorney Kay Harper Williams. So far Williams has not said whether or not the settlement was “against ERS Inc. (Environmental Remediation Services), the septic service company that maintained the sewage system at Bruce Park’s bathrooms on Arlington Road.” ERS Inc. has yet to issue a comment on the matter. When discussing the case, Williams added that the charges against A1 Septic were dismissed because of a lack of information needed to proceed. She said:

“We have resolved the initial lawsuit, and we will proceed with filing a separate lawsuit against the city in the preventable death…His family would have agreed, and the family was involved in that process. There is still a case coming.”

What happened, though?

According to the lawsuit, Amari and his family were visiting Bruce Park. While there, the park became crowded and Amari went missing. After spending hours searching for the child, “police decided to drain the septic tank next to the bathroom at the park and found his body.” Later, a medical examiner’s report noted the “child’s lungs were lined by brown fluid and material.” According to the suit and autopsy report, he had “died from asphyxia due to inhaling septic tank contents after falling through the lid of an underground septic system tank at the park.”

It remains unclear, however, whether the lid to the septic tank was secured when Amari became trapped inside. Months prior to the incident, the city received a complaint from a resident about an “uncovered hole at one of Bruce Park’s tanks, which was reported fixed the next day.” Then, during a routine inspection a month later, another problem was discovered that resulted in re-securing the lid. So there was a history of the city having issues with the lid for the septic tank Amari was trapped in.

After Amari’s untimely and tragic death, Mayor Lenny Curry called for a “review of safety and security measures at hundreds of city parks, asking for all of the septic tank lids at 76 of the parks that have underground tanks to be standardized.” Additionally, the Florida Department of Health mandates that all septic tank lids, including the ones at Bruce Park, should “be attached in a way that is vandal, tamper and child resistant.”

In an amended lawsuit filed November 12, the suit named the city of Jacksonville, A1 Septic, and ERS as defendants. Among the allegations, the suit claimed ERS was negligent and failed in its responsibility to “inspect, maintain and service all of the septic systems in the city’s public areas, including the one next to the bathrooms at Bruce Park.” The suit further stated:

“The company had no employees or agents who were registered septic tank contractors or state-licensed plumbers at the time of the child’s death, as required by statute. It also did not have a certificate of authorization to practice septic tank contracting services to the public, as required by statute…The unsecured septic tank at the subject premises constituted an open pit under Florida statutes.”

The suit added:

“As a direct and proximate result of the negligence of defendant ERS, Amari Harley fell into the septic tank and drowned. The death of Amari Harley was a foreseeable result of negligence of defendant ERS.”

So far, ERS has not appealed the recent settlement.


Settlement reached in septic tank death of 3-year-old Jacksonville boy

Settlement reached in lawsuit regarding 3-year-old boy who drowned in septic tank

Join the conversation!