A wrongful death lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Ventura County Court on behalf of Naya Rivera’s four-year-old son Josey Hollis Dorsey. Rivera’s estate, and business manager are also listed as plaintiffs. The lawsuit names Ventura County, United Water Conservation District as well as Parks and Recreation Management (PMC) as defendants. Lake Piru has banned swimming since Rivera drowned there July 8th. The suit claims the county failed to adequately warn swimmers of the dangers there. In addition to wrongful death, the suit includes complaints for survival and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The suit also claims that the reports that Rivera pushed Josey up on the boat before she died are not true.
The lawsuit explains that as a minor, Josey “bring this claim through his guardian ad litem, Ryan Dorsey, who is Josey’s father.” The suit alleges that the pontoon boat Rivera rented was not equipped with the necessary safety equipment. “At the Lake Piru Recreation Area boating dock, Naya rented a pontoon boat from PMC – a boat that, it turned out, was not equipped with a safely accessible ladder, adequate rope, an anchor, a radio, or any security mechanisms to prevent swimmers from being separated from their boats.” The suit continues, “Disturbingly, later inspection revealed that the boat was not even equipped with any flotation or lifesaving devices, in direct violation of California law…”
In addition to the lack of equipment, the suit claims that while there are numerous signs about snake bites and invasive mussels around the lake, there was not a single sign posted anywhere near the popular swimming area Diablo Cove. No “warning of the lake’s strong currents, low visibility, high winds, changing water depths, underwater caves, ledges, and drop offs, or the trees, brush, and other debris that congest its waters due to vastly changing water levels and winds.”
The lawsuit also recounts the heartbreaking last moments Rivera and Josey had together. “While Naya and Josey were swimming, the boat started to be carried away — likely by the current and wind, which gusted up to 21 miles per hour that afternoon. Josey, who was closer, managed to get back on the boat by his own volition and braced himself on the boat, which was rocking back and forth forcefully in the current and wind. Josey knew Naya was still in the water, and heard her cry, ‘Help! Help!’ in her struggle to get back to the boat and avoid drowning.”
The suit explains that Josey tried to act quickly to save his mom. “Josey searched in vain for rope to help his mother get back on the boat. Josey then looked back at the water for his mother and saw that Naya had disappeared. Josey yelled for help and cried alone in the boat until he was found more than an hour later by a PMC boat leasing agent.”
The suit also claims that the defendants have been providing inaccurate media reports, including the story that Rivera boosted Josey up on the boat with the last bit of strength she had left. It explains, “Naya’s exceptional physical fitness; relative youth, strong swimming skills, and powerful love for Josey, she surely struggled mightily to make it back to the boat and succumbed to exhaustion over at least a few minutes. During those minutes, Naya may not have known whether Josey made it back to the boat- as, despite Defendants’ inaccurate media reports, Naya did not boost Josey back on the boat- but she surely knew that she was dying and would not make it back to her son.”
The suit also points to the lakes “deadly history” and called it a direct result of the dangerous conditions that occur there. The suit says that at least 26 other people, “from children to fit adults to elders,” have drowned in Lake Piru since its recreational facilities opened. It also alleges that defendants have attempted “to discredit Naya in the media and distract from their own negligence.”
Rivera was laid to rest in a private funeral at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Hollywood Hills on July 24th. Her family said in a statement. “We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and prayers for Naya, Josey, and our family over the past week. While we grieve the loss of our beautiful legend, we are blessed to honor her everlasting legacy and magnetic spirit. Naya was an amazing talent, but was an even greater person, mother, daughter, and sister.”