Glee star Naya Rivera’s ex-husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of their son, claiming in court papers that the lake where she drowned was unsafe and that authorities didn’t warn her about its many dangers. The suit also claimed that their rental boat was “illegally underequipped” in terms of safety.
Ryan Dorsey filed this lawsuit in the Superior Court of Ventura County for their then-4-year-old son, Josey Hollis Dorsey. The civil complaint names Ventura County and the area’s water management district as defendants.
Rivera went missing on July 8 after setting out on a boating trip in Lake Piru with her son. A boat rental employee, who went looking for them after they didn’t return as expected, found Josey floating on their boat by himself in the lake.
Her body was found five days later. The search for Rivera was impaired because of dangerous, low-visibility water conditions.
According to court papers, Rivera and Josey Dorsey got off their rented pontoon boat for a swim about two hours into the trip. When they were swimming, their boat began to drift off, “likely by the current and wind,” which had gusts of up to 21 miles-per-hour that day. Josey, who was closer to their boat, managed to get back and “braced himself” on the vessel.
“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 lawsuit alleged. “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.”
When Rivera’s body was found, she was in an area 25–30 feet deep “with an underwater shelf nearby that was 65–70 feet deep, and is congested with heavy debris and trees that rise up nearly 20 feet from the lakebed,” court papers state.
The lawsuit contended that Lake Piru’s management dropped the ball in warning people about its dangers.
“Though the Lake Piru Recreation Area is approximately 60 acres, with 66 boat slips and a full-service marina offering access to approximately 1,200 acres of lake, there is not a single sign anywhere — not at the entrance, at the dock, at the popular swimming area of Diablo Cove, not anywhere — 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,” court papers state.
“And of course, while Defendants have posted numerous signs warning of the risk of snakebites, eating fish from the lake, and the presence of invasive mussels in the lake, there are no signs warning visitors about the dangers of swimming in the lake, to wear life vests when swimming or boating, or that dozens of others have drowned in Lake Piru.”
As for the boat, court papers claimed that when the boat rental agent offered Rivera a life vest, this person “did not warn Naya to wear the vest and instead merely put the vest in the rental boat.” (The suit notes that Rivera “politely declined, as the vest was optional.”)
The boat “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,” court papers also charged. “Disturbingly, later inspection revealed that the boat was not even equipped with any flotation or lifesaving devices, in direct violation of California law, which requires that all pontoons longer than 16 feet be equipped with flotation devices.”
“Defendants owed a duty of care to Naya and Josey, as members of the public invited to Lake Piru for the use and enjoyment of its recreational facilities, to reasonably ensure their safety, protect them from injuries, and adequately warn them of dangerous conditions while at Lake Piru,” said the suit, which was filed by attorney Amjad M. Khan. “Defendants’ negligence was a substantial factor in causing Naya’s death.”
The suit also claimed that at least 26 other people have drowned in Lake Piru.
Neither a spokesperson for Ventura County, nor the water management district, immediately responded to Vulture’s request for comment.