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Yoni was four years old when he drowned in the pool at Cathedral Oaks Athletic Club during a summer day camp in August 2005.

Paul Wellman (file)

Yoni was four years old when he drowned in the pool at Cathedral Oaks Athletic Club during a summer day camp in August 2005.


Berti Compromises with Gottesman Family

Family of Drowned Boy to Receive $1.5 Million in Punitive Damages


Thursday, November 5, 2009
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After an offer to compromise from Oded and Anat Gottesman, Richard Berti-owner of Cal-West, which operated Cathedral Oaks Athletic Club-agreed to pay $1.5 million in compensatory damages for the wrongful death of the Gottesmans’ son, Yoni.

Yoni was four years old when he drowned in the pool at Cathedral Oaks Athletic Club during a summer day camp in August 2005. A security camera captured the boy fltoating in the pool for eight minutes while kids played around him and lifeguards failed to notice. After he was pulled from the pool, it was alleged that improper CPR was given. In early May, a Santa Barbara jury awarded the Gottesmans $13.8 million in compensatory damages, along with another $2.3 million in punitive damages, for the wrongful death of their son.

Included in the Gottesmans’ original lawsuit was an allegation of the fraudulent conveyance of assets-that is, that Berti transferred assets out of his name to someone else-when Berti and his business partner sold Cathedral Oaks Inc. to club manager Julie Main and her business partner for cheap not long after Yoni’s death. Prior to the start of the wrongful death trial, Judge Thomas Anderle chose to split the fraudulent conveyance issue into a separate trial.

The matter was set for trial earlier this month, but Berti agreed to the Gottesmans’ offer for a compromise. As part of the agreement in which he-not his companies or other defendants-paid the $1.5 million, he will not face a trial in which it is alleged that he fraudulently conveyed assets out of his name and to someone else.

It was never about the money, Gottesman lawyer Barry Cappello said, which is why they offered to compromise. “The next son will be saved by what we’re doing,” said Oded Gottesman, who intends to use the money to increase pool safety awareness through a foundation named after Yoni. But what the family did want in their offer to compromise was for Berti to admit he was a responsible party.

That’s why Tuesday, in Anderle’s court, there was a strong disagreement about the wording of the compromise. John Levitt, attorney for Berti, offered a document worded so that it dismissed all claims against Berti. Cappello strenuously objected to the wording of that final version, which he said didn’t have a strong enough declaration of judgment. He also was disturbed by a flurry of emails Tuesday morning from Levitt in which the wording of the compromise was changed from its original draft. Anderle eventually ruled that judgment, however, was not warranted, and that dismissal with prejudice was a fair equivalent.

We are happy with the judge’s ruling today,” Levitt said, adding that it was Berti’s hope the money would be used to advocate for pool safety. Despite issuing a press release later in the day expressing acknowledgement that Berti was forced to take responsibility for their son’s death, the Gottesmans, standing outside the court Tuesday, expressed frustration with the move. “Richard Berti doesn’t get it yet,” Oded Gottesman said. “He doesn’t understand what he did.” The Gottesmans are thinking about filling a motion to set aside the offer to compromise since the final wording was not part of the original agreement.

But for now, the question of punitive damages have been resolved. This closes a “sordid chapter surrounding the willful misconduct in the death of Yoni Gottesman,” Cappello said, “and the attempt by Berti to hide his assets after Yoni’s death.” In the meantime, Berti is considering a motion for a new trial, in which Berti and other defendants could ask the judge to reduce the amount of compensatory damages down from the $13.8 million.

The Gottesmans are still pursuing a lawsuit against Berti’s partner, Richard Ortale, for fraudulent conveyance. That matter probably won’t be resolved until late next year. The Gottesmans are also appealing Anderle’s decision prior to the April trial to dismiss Berti as a defendant in the wrongful death, negligence, and willful misconduct claims and-if the appeal is successful-would try these claims against Berti.

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This story has been amended for accuracy since its original posting. No punitive damages were awarded.

Comments

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Outrageously flippant of Berti to express a desire that the Gottesmans use the settlement to advocate for pool safety...what does he think this entire process has been about? Why else would the parents of this boy have struggled for so long to get some form of justice for the extreme negligence that lead to the death of their young son? He could at least have the courtesy not to step on their toes now and to cough up more from his very deep pockets toward their pool safety foundation, as well as acknowledge and apologize for his personal culpability in the death. Prayers and blessings go out to the Gottesmans as they pursue further avenues of justice in this sorrowful matter.

Akimbo (anonymous profile)
November 5, 2009 at 10:04 a.m. (Suggest removal)

If it wasn't about the money, then why would the Gottesmans ask for money in the first place? Why would they make an offer to Mr. Berti only for money and not ask for an apology or some concession of responsibility if that is really what they wanted? That does not make any sense.

Mr. Berti and his wife have done a lot of good for this community and that should not be forgotten simply because a tragic accident happed at the Cathedral Oaks Club.

But for the sake of G*d goes you, so don't be so quick to judge. I hope the Gottesmans stop dwelling on their obvious crusade against Mr. Berti and move on to more constructive avenues.

localresident (anonymous profile)
November 5, 2009 at 3:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

To local resident:: You want the Gottesmans to move on to more constructive avenues---without their child. How kind of you to wish them a good future--without their child.

Mr. local resident: Do you have children or a loved one?

Most people in business do "good things" in the community which is in the public relations or charity expense write offs of their business expenses.

This was a tragedy felt by all parties and the community. Safety was not adequately given to those who used their memberships and trusted that all precautions were in place. It could have been any child and eight minutes of inattention was responsible for a child's death.

What more can I say? Nothing.

bajamama (anonymous profile)
November 5, 2009 at 7:47 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Just because someone has done good charitable deeds that does not mean they should be treated any differently if they did something wrong.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
November 5, 2009 at 9:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What I think is interesting about this is that not one single reporter picked up the fact that the Cathedral Oaks Club did not have a permit to run a day care camp....thus their insurance isn't covering any of this.

That is why all the hiding of assets, it wasn't the insurance companies money on the line but the personal assets of the owners.

rstein9 (anonymous profile)
November 6, 2009 at 6:01 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"Just because someone has done good charitable deeds that does not mean they should be treated any differently if they did something wrong."

Hey Bill Clausen, do you know anything about the Free Masons?? Every time I try to tell people what their upper level members are up to, I get all this stuff about how many good charitable deeds they perform! It's very frustrating..

loonpt (anonymous profile)
November 6, 2009 at 9:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Are they the group with the Worshipful Master and the Junior Warden where the men were aprons for there initiation ceremonies? The group I describe are the Masons but I don't know if Freemasons are a different group.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
November 6, 2009 at 3:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Correction:

Richard Berti did not pay $1.5 million in punitive damages to the Gottesman family. The payment was in fact a compromise settlement, and as such, the Gottesmans have dismissed all claims and awards for punitive damages, and can no longer pursue punitive damages against Berti.

As part of the settlement compromise, there is no admission of liability or responsibility by Berti.

Chris (Chris Meagher)
November 18, 2009 at 10:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

History shows the facts. Cathedral Oaks sold its assets, Cappello on behalf of his clients sued Ortale, Berti and others for Fraudulent Conveyance, which was false. Cathedral Oaks, Inc. sold its asset and so it remains. The buyer has invested hundreds of thousands dollars, did and continues to own and operate what it bought.

whooops (anonymous profile)
February 22, 2014 at 10:30 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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