In a story first broken by ESPN on Monday, October 15th, the family of former US National Team swimmer Fran Crippen initiated a civil action against FINA and USA Swimming in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mr. and Mrs. Crippen commenced the lawsuit by filing a Praecipe To Issue Writ of Summons, naming as plaintiffs themselves individually and as the Administrators of the Estate of Fran Crippen. A copy of this Summons and the other court documents are included here.
According to the Civil Cover Sheet completed by the Crippen family attorney, Gerald A. McHugh, the family is seeking damages in excess of $50,000.00 and is requesting a non-jury trial for personal injury, which can include a claim for wrongful death. Under Pennsylvania law, to file a wrongful death suit, a plaintiff must show that the death was caused by a negligent, willful, or wrongful act or omission of another and that the act or omission would have entitled the injured person to file an action to recover damages had the death not occurred.
The timing of the lawsuit comes as the statute of limitations of two years is about to expire. Fran died in an open water race in the UAE on October 23rd, 2010, which means the last opportunity to file a suit would seem to be next Tuesday. USA Swimming says that they are aware of the lawsuit, but that they have no comment because a suit has not been filed.
Under Pennsylvania procedural rules, a party can begin a civil lawsuit by filing the writ of summons or by filing a complaint. By filing a writ of summons, the Crippens have 90 days from the issuance of the summons to serve it upon the FINA and USA Swimming. By using this method of filing the action against the swimming entities, the Crippens can begin seeking information from FINA and USA Swimming (referred to as discovery) to uncover facts or witnesses prior to filing the formal complaint. Plaintiffs may use discovery to flesh out the details of their potential action.
Given the limited number of documents filed, it is unclear what the Crippen family will include in their formal complaint for personal injury or if they will actually file one. Mr. McHugh, the family’s attorney, explained that the summons was “filed for the purpose of preserving the Crippen family’s rights while they continue to review the recent rule changes enacted by FINA in the wake of Fran’s death.”
Since Fran’s death, the Crippen family has been actively engaged in pursuing changes in the open water rules, procedures, and conditions. FINA recently instated new open water rules and heightened others, except for one measure that was supported by the Crippen Family – maximum water temperature. FINA did not establish such a rule with its recent changes. The Crippens have been pushing for these maximum temperatures not only to be put in place, but to be severely tightened in order to mitigate the number of unsafe factors that open water athletes face.
Recently, this torch has been taken up by 2012 US Open Water Olympian, and Crippen’s good friend, Alex Meyer. Read more about his feelings on the topic in this editorial.
“The best we can do right now is set a great example for safety here in the United States (we have a maximum allowable water temperature of 29.5°C) and work towards establishing high standards for other federations to adopt,” Meyer believes. “I imagine FINA is waiting on the results of their study before they make a ruling on this.”
Meyer says that leaders of USA Swimming are expected to meet later this month to further discuss the subject. There is currently a study underway in New Zealand to study the effects of high temperatures on endurance athletes. This is believed to be the first of its kind, though there have been others done on extreme cold water temperatures by the U.S. military, among others.