Mother Can Press Case Over Son’s Mission Death

     (CN) – A woman whose son drowned in Costa Rica can continue her lawsuit against the church that sponsored his mission trip, the Mississippi Court of Appeals ruled.
     Marshuan Braxton, 17, flew from Memphis to Costa Rica in 2009 with a mission group to build a sanctuary and to perform other activities.
     Amanda Gordon, associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of New Albany coordinated the trip with missionary Wil Bailey.
     Nine adults and six children from the New Albany congregation made the trip, along with four adults and one child from another church.
     On the way to the worksite, Bailey suggested that the group stop for lunch at a scenic roadside cafe. The party then broke into smaller groups to visit the beach.
     According to court documents, Braxton, two other youths and adult chaperones climbed onto a rock to observe some crabs, and the youths continued to do so even after the chaperones had climbed down and walked behind a rock formation.
     A large wave crashed into the three boys, knocking them into the ocean. The chaperones climbed back onto the rock, but a second wave knocked one of them into the surf as well.
     Two of the boys swam safely to the beach, and the chaperone was rescued, but Braxton disappeared into the waves.
     The mission team and local safety forces searched for three hours until nightfall. Braxton’s lifeless body was found the next day, the court documents say.
     Deliah Colyer, Braxton’s mother, sued the church for wrongful death in 2011. The trial court granted summary judgment to the church in 2014.
     Colyer appealed, arguing that the church had breached its duty of ordinary care. The church countered that its duty was lessened by Braxton’s age.
     Colyer also argued that the church failed to research the dangers of the coast and should not have allowed her son to explore the rocks near the water.
     The Mississippi Court of Appeals sided with Colyer, ruling that she had presented enough issues of material fact to survive summary judgment.
     “Our supreme court has held that adequacy of supervision is a question for the jury,” Judge Ceola James wrote. “Therefore, regardless of Braxton’s age, a jury must decide what constitutes proper and adequate supervision.”
     James also noted that the church is not protected by the liability waiver that Braxton signed before the trip.
     “Braxton’s contract was not legally binding because of his age and the nature of the contract,” she stated.
     Judge Virginia Carlton wrote a specially concurring opinion.
     “I find that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether FUNA, through its employee, Amanda, negligently failed to warn of dangerous conditions that she knew or should have known existed on the beaches of Costa Rica’s Pacific Ocean edge, and whether Amanda, as the mission-trip leader, negligently planned and supervised this international mission trip,” she wrote.

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