The first known plaintiff to cite the Virginia Graeme Baker Act in a wrongful death lawsuit has dropped claims that her husband died from an entrapment. Court documents filed recently focus on equipment and staff issues rather than drain covers; however, numerous violations are still part of the lawsuit, and the VGBA remains a factor.
On April 11, 2009, 38-year-old Lorenzo Williams and his family were visiting a pool at Pittsburgh’s Downtown Athletic Club, located in the Doubletree Hotel and Suites.
According to the lawsuit, when his wife, a nonswimmer, spotted him motionless at the bottom of the pool’s deep end, she ran to the front desk for help, but it was empty. When she tried calling "911" from a phone in the pool area, it didn’t work.
Staff members were found eventually, and it took more than one person to pull the 6-foot-1-inch, 202-pound victim out of the water. By then he had already been underwater 15 minutes, it is estimated. Chest compressions were administered, but no mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Williams, a capable swimmer, died in a nearby hospital. The death was ruled an accidental drowning.
Initially, Erika Williams alleged that her husband was the victim of suction entrapment, which the defendants strongly disputed.
Expert witnesses said the pool pump was only capable of producing line velocities under the VGBA-allowed maximum of 1.5 feet per second, and the coroner found no suction marks on the body that would indicate suction entrapment.
Now, in revised court documents filed in July, the plaintiff alleged the death was a result of the pool owner’s negligence. Local code requires lifeguards, and the lawsuit stated that the athletic club received multiple citations for violating that code.
Both sides admitted the pool was not VGBA-compliant. Court documents filed by the defendant stated that the 17-inch square drain didn’t have a cover, and owners stated that they didn’t know about the VBGA. They alleged that Williams, a diabetic, had lost consciousness in the past and had a slightly enlarged heart. The coroner’s report indicated no sign of cardiovascular issues, but the defendants further deny liability, saying he signed a release and signs were posted stating there were no lifeguards.
Attorneys for both parties declined to comment on ongoing litigation and there’s no word on what will happen next, but VGBA could still come up in further proceedings.
“The plaintiff’s attorney would attempt to introduce [the infraction] to show an overall pattern of neglect when it came to maintaining the pool,” said Ray Arouesty, an attorney and president of Arrow Insurance Service in Simi Valley, Calif.
“A pool owner who has failed to comply with the VGBA requirements is going to have a much more difficult time defending themselves in court in a drowning case, even if it’s unrelated to entrapment, because of the inference that a jury could draw,” Arouesty added.