The family of the two teenage brothers who drowned in the Lincoln Community School pool in Bayonne have taken the first steps in filing a lawsuit by submitting two tort claims.
16-year-old Jack Jiang, a junior at Bayonne High School, and 19-year-old Chu Ming Zheng, who graduated from the high school last year and was attending the University of Miami, drowned in the pool on June 8 despite three lifeguards being on duty.
While the lifeguards and arriving first responders performed life-saving measures as soon as 8:23 p.m., according to police, the brothers were pronounced dead after being transported to Bayonne Medical Center.
The estates of Chu Ming Zheng and Jack Jiang are being represented by attorneys Daryl Zaslow and Barry Eichen of Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow law firm in Edison. Co-counsel is Victoria Zheng Wong of the QLW Law Group based in Flushing, New York.
Zaslow and Eichen told the Bayonne Community News that the tort claims were necessary to reserve the family’s right to file a lawsuit in the future. The notice of the tort claims was sent to the state, the county, the city, the city’s Department of Recreation, the Bayonne Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools John Niesz, Lincoln Community School, the school pool which is formally known as the Joseph J. Skutnick pool, and Lincoln Community School Principal Keith Makowski.
Tort claims filed amid investigation
Zaslow said the Tort Claims Act requires anyone who plans to sue the state or a municipality to give them written notice within 90 days of a potential case. If a tort claim is not filed, regardless of the merits of the case, it could be barred forever as a procedural penalty. Additionally, a formal lawsuit cannot really be filed until six months, Eichen added.
Due to the ongoing investigation into what happened that night, the tort claims, each worth $50 million, names the aforementioned entities who were noticed as potential plaintiffs. The tort claim apologizes for potentially naming those not responsible, but needs to be wide-reaching to not preclude anyone from the future lawsuit.
“The responsible people and entities who were supposed to have security, supervision, and lifeguarding were negligent,” Zaslow said. “That negligence led to two preventable deaths of these young men.”
The incident is being investigated by the Police Department, the Board of Education, the school district’s insurance carrier, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. On top of that, Zaslow and Eichen are also conducting their own investigation that is so far pointing to the drownings being “100 percent preventable.”
“Aquatic lifeguarding and safety experts, based on the facts thus far, it is impossible to come up with a situation in which an entity and or individuals were not negligent,” Zaslow said. “Now the investigation and our pursuit will really involve who are the responsible parties. Because someone or some entities clearly were.”
Eichen added: “The fact that we can’t file a formal suit under the Tort Claims Act until some time passes has not hampered us in terms of our investigation. We’ve talked to various aquatic safety and rescue experts who can’t think of any scenario where this community pool is not responsible for negligence and not saving these young men.”
Community supports the teens’ family
While the investigation remains ongoing, the community has rallied around the family. A GoFundMe fundraiser webpage has exceeded it’s goal of $25,000 and is still accepting donations at: gofundme.com/f/chu-ming-jacks-family?qid=16e0222b1fedc4ca38f024f0bc38eb39. Additionally, the Board of Education had collected gift cards for the family in the wake of the tragedy from June 9 to June 13.
More recently, the board held a moment of silence with the student representative to the board later offering solemn words in regards to the fallen brother. A moment of silence was also held for Zheng and Jiang at the June meeting of the Bayonne City Council. On top of that, students and friends gathered to remember Zheng and Jiang with a vigil at Stephen Gregg Hudson County Park.
Zaslow thanked the community on behalf of the family for the outpouring of support: “Our clients are certainly appreciative of the outpouring of affection. Many members of the community have helped during this horrific time. As their attorneys, we thank those people and all the members of the community that have been so incredibly affectionate and understanding.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.