Iowa will pay $3.5 million to family of student who drowned in rowing accident

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa officials agreed Tuesday to pay $3.5 million in a settlement agreement with the family of an Iowa State University student who drowned after a school crew club boat capsized in cold, rough waters.

The State Appeal Board approved the terms of the agreement between Iowa State and the parents of Yaakov Ben-David more than three years after the 20-year-old sophomore’s death.

The family of a second student who drowned, 19-year-old freshman Derek Nanni, agreed to a $2 million settlement in August 2021, the Iowa Department of Management’s records show.

The rowers went out March 28, 2021, on Little Wall Lake in Hamilton County, Iowa, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of the Ames campus. It was Ben-David and Nanni’s first practice on the water after practices on land, according to court filings.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed by Ben-David’s parents alleged that Iowa State was negligent with the Crew Club, a recognized student organization. They claimed, with support from an independent investigation, that the rowers launched the boat in dangerous conditions, dressed in insufficient apparel, and attempted to swim to shore after it capsized because of inadequate training, safety standards or supervision.

At the time of the accident, the county sheriff said wind speeds were around 20-25 mph (32-40 kph), and the air temperatures around 37 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) meant the water would have been cold enough for hypothermia to set in within minutes.

Three other crew members were rescued and survived.

The terms of the settlement stipulate that the Ben-Davids acknowledge the payment is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing and that the state and university “expressly deny any such liability or wrongdoing,” according to court filings.

The Ben-Davids agreed not to bring another lawsuit related to the accident.