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
Initially, Erika Williams alleged that her husband was the victim
of suction entrapment, which the defendants strongly
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
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
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.