Negligence Lawsuit Dismissed After Downtown LA Hotel Water Tank Death

Elisa Lam died in 2013 after climbing into a rooftop water tank.

A judge dismissed a negligence lawsuit Monday filed by the parents of a Canadian student against the downtown Los Angeles hotel where their daughter drowned in a rooftop water tank in 2013.

Finalizing a tentative ruling he handed down Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Howard Halm found that 21-year-old Elisa Lam's death was unforeseeable because it occurred in an area of the former Cecil Hotel where guests were not allowed.

To reach the water tank, Lam had to go to the hotel roof, climb onto a platform, scale a 10-foot ladder along the side of the tank, push aside the 20-pound lid and then either fall or climb into the tank, Halm wrote in his nine-page decision.

The judge noted that the hotel management knew of no previous incidents.

"In fact, the very nature of the water tank would make it unreasonable for (Lam) to assume that she was allowed to climb it and open the lid," Halm wrote.

David and Yinna Lam filed the suit in September 2013 against the hotel, which was built in the 1920s and has since been renamed Stay on Main. Their attorney, Thomas Johnston, said after the hearing that he will have to ponder the issues further before deciding whether to appeal.

In his argument before Halm, Johnston said Lam was not killed by a "bogeyman" or a "haunted hotel." He said the young woman was mentally ill and that her death could have been prevented if the lid on the tank had hinges and a lock as it does at present.

"They should have secured that water tank," Johnston said. "This was an accident waiting to happen."

Defense attorney Jeff Hsu said Halm made the correct ruling.

Lam, a student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, was staying at the hotel while on a holiday trip to California. Her body was found on Feb. 19, 2013. The LAPD searched the roof earlier while investigating her disappearance, but did not check the tanks.

Lam was last seen Jan. 31, 2013, at the hotel near Skid Row.

Surveillance video footage showed her behaving oddly in a hotel elevator. Her case drew interest in China, where the video went viral, and other Asian countries, as well as the United States and Canada.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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