Boy caught in pool drain is awarded $7 million

Miami Herald

A teenage boy whose tragic accident in a North Miami swimming pool might have been prevented by a few cheap screws for fastening a drain cover will receive a $7 million settlement from the insurers for the apartment complex and the pool maintenance company.  The settlement, announced Thursday, will help pay for the medical costs of treating Lorenzo Peterson, 15, who went into a coma on June 17 after he got his arm stuck in the drain at the bottom of the pool in the Village Apartments, 1600 NE 126th St.

The boy's grandmother and guardian, Eva Mae Peterson, sued the complex owner, Roberta Segal, and the pool maintenance company, All Florida Distributors, alleging they should have been aware of the loose drain cover and secured it.  Lorenzo was submerged under water for at least 10 minutes because he could not remove his arm from the drain.  The force of the pool's suction pump kept him down.  Six people tried unsuccessfully to pull the boy out of the six-foot-deep end of the pool.  Finally, a police officer turned off the switch in the pump room, which had been locked, to free the boy.

``Hopefully, this case will compel apartment owners to make sure the drain covers are secure on their pools,'' said Peterson's attorney, Michael Haggard.  ``A simple rod with a hook fastening the cover could prevent this from happening again.''

Lorenzo was visiting his mother at the Village Apartments.  The teen and his best friend, Antonio Boudreau, were playing in the deep end of the pool.  The friend was able to remove the drain cover because the screws had rusted and come loose.  Lorenzo, 14 at the time, got his arm trapped in the drain.

The teen suffered irreversible brain damage.  He is receiving neurological rehabilitation at a HealthSouth facility in South Dade, with the bills being partly paid by the state's Medicaid program.  The settlement, which will be established as a special needs trust, will help offset the costs.  ``He will need this treatment for the rest of his life,'' Haggard said. ``The trust is set up so it will never run out money to pay his medical bills.''

The attorney for Segal's insurance company, Lloyd's of London, initially blamed All Florida Distributors, which was responsible for cleaning and maintaining the pool.  But as the negligence suit headed for trial, attorney Benjamin Esco said his client realized that a jury could find the apartment owner liable for at least $20 million.  ``Our experts had looked at the boy's condition, and it was horrible,'' Esco said.  ``The owner of the premises, who visited the boy, wanted the settlement done as much as anything for the boy's sake.''  Segal's primary insurer, Lloyd's, will pay $1 million and her secondary insurer, TIG Insurance, will pay $3 million.  The attorney for All Florida Distributors, Peter Murphy, could not be reached for comment.  The company's insurer, CGU Insurance, will pay the other $3 million.
The pool firm, which originally said it only cleaned the swimming pool at the Village Apartments, faced a potential liability problem because it either didn't check the loose drain cover or checked it and did nothing about securing it.

Lorenzo's accident was one in a series of Florida tragedies involving uncovered pool drains last year.  An 11-year-old Miami girl drowned last June when she was sucked in by her hair, and an 8-year-old Hollywood boy drowned last May while trying to recover a ball.







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