A jury ordered the Bel-Air Bay Club to pay $12 million to a member of the Keck family whose 48-year-old son died from heat exhaustion at the Pacific Palisades facility in 2017.
William M. Keck III died from a heart arrhythmia caused by elevated potassium due to heat exhaustion on Sept. 3, 2017. Katherine “Kitty” Keck sued the Bel-Air Bay Club, alleging the staff failed to call 911 or administer proper first aid for more than three hours after her son began showing signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion.
Keck III, great-grandson of Superior Oil founder William Keck Sr., was a commercial real estate broker and on the board of the W.M. Keck Foundation and the William M. Keck Jr. Foundation.
The W.M. Keck Foundation, one of the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations, is known for its support of the Keck School of Medicine of USC, the Keck Telescopes in Hawaii and “Sesame Street” on KCET, among other beneficiaries. The William M. Keck Jr. Foundation has supported the Venice Family Clinic, the Midnight Mission and Meals on Wheels.
In Monday’s verdict, the Santa Monica Superior Court jury found that Kitty Keck suffered $15 million in damages for the loss of the love and affection of her son, but the award was reduced by $3 million because the panel also found that her son was 20% at fault for his death.
Kitty Keck’s lawyers argued during the two-week trial that club employees owed a duty of care to William Keck to recognize his symptoms, his worsening condition and to get him medical aid sooner.
“This case was about the stunning lack of training and negligence that caused a tragic death that could have been prevented,” said lead plaintiff’s attorney Bruce Broillet. “We hope this verdict sends a message to other athletic facilities and clubs to take heat exhaustion seriously.”
In their court papers, attorneys for the club alleged that Keck III had pre-existing health problems, drank alcohol daily, smoked marijuana and refused to take prescribed medications. The club staff had no obligation to call 911 because they had no way of knowing that Keck III’s potassium levels were reaching a point where recovery was not possible, according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.
Keck III was playing paddle tennis at a tournament on a hot and humid day when he started cramping about 1:30 p.m. and asked a locker room attendant to massage his calf, the suit stated. The cramps persisted and worsened over the next few hours while the locker room attendant continued to massage Keck III, according to the suit.
The cramping spread and he continued to sweat in the hot and humid locker room in spite of being given water and Gatorade, yet no one from the club called 911 until he started having difficulty breathing about 5 p.m., the suit stated.
Paramedics arrived four minutes later and found Keck III turning blue. He died at a hospital less than an hour later, according to the suit.
The club had procedures requiring a call to 911 for heat exhaustion that was not followed for more than three hours, the plaintiff alleged.
“Safety was a big factor that was ignored and my son would still be alive if someone had just called for help,” his mother said. “It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”