Matt Devoti & Matt Casey Secure $3.9 Million for Family of Drowning Victim

cliffs at the Offsets in Frederickson, Mo

Casey, Devoti & Brockland’s partners, Matt Devoti and Matt Casey, successfully represented the family of a 19-year-old who died at the Offsets, a recreation area located just outside Fredericktown. Matt and Matt tried the case to a Madison County jury in a trial beginning on July 31 — the jury awarded the family over $3.9 million.

The 19-year-old died after jumping off a 15-foot bluff at the Offsets. The Offsets features a 5-acre lake in a flooded lead mine. The area has been operated by Gary Henson since the early 1980s. An entrance fee earns guests entrance to the recreational area where they can swim, bluff jump into the lake, camp and picnic.

Our clients’ son was the eighth guest to die in the area — a ninth guest passed away within days of the death of our clients’ son. All deaths involved young men, between the ages of 18 and 25, who drowned while swimming or after bluff jumping. Following these incidents, a Madison County Circuit judge ordered that the location be permanently closed to the public unless significant changes were made to its operation.

Evidence at trial showed that Henson and Offsets Recreation, the area’s operators, never changed, much less undertook any substantive evaluation of the recreation area’s operation. At the time of the drowning, no lifeguards were present, no one was trained to respond to water emergencies and no safety equipment was readily available.

The death of our clients’ son occurred on July 4. Despite the increase in visitors due to the holiday, only two staff members were working at the time and one was stationed at the area’s front gate to collect entry fees. Neither the park’s operator nor its manager were on the clock when the teen drowned.

The case was not without challenges. Though our clients’ son was under the age of 21, he brought alcohol on site and had a BAC of .152. The defendants presented evidence that he violated posted rules about where to flip off the bluffs. Moreover, signage stating “swim at your own risk” and “no lifeguards on duty” were present in multiple places, including prominently at the entry gate. Finally, the teen had signed a document on entry identifying specific risks associated with activities available at the Offsets.

Despite the challenges, Matt and Matt tried an efficient case. The jury heard from 13 witnesses in two days — Casey, Devoti & Brockland put nine witnesses on the stand while the defense put on four. Madison County’s population is relatively small, with only about 12,500 residents. As a result, the dangers of the Offsets was well-known by jurors.

The jury entered its verdict after deliberating for just over 100 minutes. They ultimately awarded the parents actual damages of $1,942,200. The jury also assessed damages for aggravating circumstances against the Offsets and Gary Henson for $1 million each.

The successful case was the first jury trial in Madison County’s new courthouse, which opened in January 2023. After a long court battle, Matt Devoti and Matt Casey are both proud to have provided the family with some form of retribution after a devastating loss.

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