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Parents of a girl who was killed in a collapsed culvert in April file a lawsuit

The parents of an 11-year-old girl who died after being buried in a sandy culvert near her Spring Hill home have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the homeowners association and property manager.

A lawyer representing the family said he also plans to name Hernando County as a co-defendant.

"So far, everyone's denying liability, so I'm just seeking justice," Tampa attorney Joseph Diaco said on Wednesday.

In April, Brittany Saavedra, a fifth-grader at J.D. Floyd Elementary School, and friends were digging tunnels in a sandy retention area near Braemere Drive when one collapsed on Brittany's head.

Rescue workers found her unresponsive, and she was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The claim, filed Friday, seeks unspecified damages for negligence.

Diaco said the lawsuit is not about money, but acknowledged he expects to ask for "well into the seven figures" if it goes to a jury.

"How do you compensate the family who lost their 11-year-old girl?" he asked. "If simple steps had been taken … this accident never would have happened."

The lawsuit suggests that the Sterling Hill Homeowners Association and Franklin & Company Property Management should have done more to warn about the dangers of the retention area, which was a popular play spot for children. Diaco said the dangerous conditions existed for at least six months, but no signs, warnings or fences were posted.

The day Mitchell Saavedra's daughter died, he told a Times reporter that he wondered why those areas weren't fenced off.

"I'm not normally an advocate for stuff … but this boggles my mind," he said. "There's got to be a way to make those things safer."

Diaco said the property is partially the responsibility of the county. He filed a notice weeks ago with the county announcing he intended to sue, but must wait six months before filing the official papers.

Reached Wednesday, an official with the property management company declined to comment.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Parents of a girl who was killed in a collapsed culvert in April file a lawsuit 10/15/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 17, 2008 6:02pm]

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