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Jury awards $2.4M in death of kayakers in 2010

But family will only receive 5 percent of total damages

Published: Tuesday, July 22 2014 5:22 p.m. MDT

Joseph Glasser, 49, and Kelly Glasser, 51, began kayaking on the Jordan River in South Jordan on Aug. 1, 2010. They eventually floated under a bridge near Winchester Street (6600 South) where a 2-foot drop plunges into foamy, circulating water. After they went over the small waterfall, they became caught in the undertow and were trapped underwater.

James Young, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The family of two kayakers who were killed in an accident on the Jordan River have been awarded more than $2 million in damages in the deaths of their loved ones.

Joseph Glasser, 49, and Kelly Glasser, 51, began kayaking on the Jordan River near 11400 South in South Jordan on Aug. 1, 2010. They made their way to a bridge near Winchester Street (6600 South) where there is a pipeline creating a small waterfall.

After they passed over the 2-foot drop, they were caught in an undertow and drowned. The Glassers' family members sued several parties, including the state of Utah and the cities of West Jordan and Murray, alleging wrongful death because brush in the area covered a danger sign that warned passersby to get out of the river.

Following a five-day jury trial in 3rd District Court and hours of deliberation, a jury awarded the family more than $2.4 million in damages Monday. The jury assigned blame for the incident in percentages, finding that while the kayakers each bore 5 percent, West Jordan was 5 percent at fault and other parties were responsible for the remaining 85 percent, according to court documents.

Those parties — Murray, Salt Lake County, the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands — had either already been dismissed from the lawsuit or settled with the family out of court, according to court records and Eric Olson, who represented the Glassers' various family members in the lawsuit.

Olson said that because the family settled with the other plaintiffs prior to the trial, only West Jordan will pay any portion of the total $2,411,052 in damages — the 5 percent awarded by the jury.

"The family is very pleased with the result, because it acknowledged the size of their loss with the size of the award and acknowledged that these defendants are responsible," Olson said. "Their hope is that this will raise public awareness and public safety."

West Jordan's attorney argued that city administrators did not have control of the signs or the land and cannot be held responsible. While West Jordan built the Jordan River Parkway and maintains the trail, the city’s attorney said the sign was installed and maintained by Murray, which also owns the pipeline.

Olson said part of the settlement with Murray was that the city would post more warning signs and install a portage for boaters. While the city did put in more signs, the portage stalled amid objections from West Jordan.

Olson said part of the reason the family pursued the lawsuit was to prompt West Jordan to withdraw that objection, because they hope to see increased safety in the area. He noted there was testimony offered at trial that other people died in the same spot prior to the Glassers' death.

"In any civil lawsuit they are rewarding money, there is a financial aspect, but a big concern for them is that this area be remedied and no one else ever die," Olson said.

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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