Water district officials and others were negligent in Naya Rivera’s drowning, lawsuit says

Searchers look for body of Naya Rivera in Lake Piru in July. Her body was found days after she drowned after going swimming.
Searchers look for the body of actress Naya Rivera in Lake Piru in July. Her body was recovered days after she drowned after leaving a boat to go swimming.

As the actress Naya Rivera and her young son swam in Lake Piru in July, gusts of wind and currents likely pushed her rented boat away from her as she struggled to swim and eventually drowned, according to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed this week by the boy’s father and others.

Ryan Dorsey, Rivera’s former boyfriend, filed the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of the boy, who was four at the time. In it, he claims the United Water Conservation District, which operates the lake, as well as Ventura County and the boat rental company failed to properly warn against the dangers of swimming in the lake and to provide adequate safety equipment on the rented pontoon boat. Rivera’s estate and the late actress’ business manager also joined in the lawsuit, which was filed in Ventura County.

Rivera’s son was found alone on the boat after she and the boy did not return did not return from an outing on July 8. Days later, divers recovered the “Glee” actress’ body. After an autopsy, coroner officials concluded the drowning was accidental.

The lawsuit offers a more detailed description of the events that led to Rivera’s death.

She and her son were swimming when “the boat started to be carried away — likely by the current and wind,” attorney Amjad Khan wrote in the lawsuit. The boy, “who was closer, managed to get back on the boat by his own volition and braced himself on the boat, which was rocking back and forth forcefully in the current and wind.”


According to the lawsuit, the boy heard his mother cry for help as she struggled to stay afloat, and he searched for a rope on the boat to throw to her. When he looked back to where she had been, Rivera was gone. The boy, Khan wrote, yelled for help and cried. He was found asleep on the boat about an hour later, wearing a life vest.

The claims echo the coroner’s report, which concluded that winds on the lake the afternoon Rivera drowned gusted up to 21 mph and possibly blew the boat away from her.

The suits alleges the pontoon boat Rivera rented was not equipped with floatation devices or other lifesaving devices — a claim that was contradicted by the coroner’s report, which noted an adult-sized life vest was on a bench seat behind the boat’s driving area.

And the lawsuit claims the boat did not have a ladder or rope to make it easier for a swimmer to get back on the boat and had no anchor or other equipment to keep it in place while people swam.

Water district officials and others also failed to adequately warn Rivera to the “deadly history” of the lake, where more than two dozen people have drowned, according to the lawsuit. In particular, the lawsuit contends, the boat’s signage suggested falsely that it complied with U.S. Coast Guard standards, while signs at the lake’s boat dock and nearby areas provided no warning of dangerous conditions that could arise with strong currents, low visibility and high winds.

County and water district officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lake was formed with the creation of St. Felicia Dam. The suit documents deaths going back to `1959 and says that a 27-year-old with a life vest died in 1994 because of the hazardous conditions.