Sta-Rite Held Liable for $104 Million in Entrapment Case
By Rebecca Robledo A Miami jury has ordered Sta-Rite Industries to pay the family of a local teen $104 million after a suction entrapment accident left him in a permanent vegetative state.
The award broke a state record, yet it only covers compensatory damages. The judge is scheduled to decide by the end of August whether the boy's lawyers can pursue punitive damages.
Sta-Rite and its insurance provider will appeal the case, according to one of the company's attorneys, Karl Sturge, with the law firm Marlow, Connell, Valerius, Abrams, Adler, Newman & Lewis in Coral Gables, Fla.
'This was a terrible and tragic accident," said Rick White, a spokesperson for the Delavan, Wisconsin manufacturer. "A young man's life was changed forever. While that should be the primary focus, we're disappointed in the jury's decision in the case."
According to the plaintiff's attorneys, on June 17, 2000, Lorenzo Peterson, then 14, got his arm stuck in an apartment pool's main drain after a friend had removed the drain cover. No- body knows if Peterson intentionally stuck his arm in the drain.
According to Peterson's attorneys, he was underwater for more than 12 minutes while a group of adults tried to pry him loose. Now 18, the teen requires 24-hour care, said Michael Haggard of the law firm Haggard, Parks, Haggard and Bologna in Miami.
Haggard believes the drain cover was as old as the pool, which was built in 1966. The cover had been loose for several years, he said.
He claimed that Sta-Rite is responsible because the company knew about entrapment dangers and did not manufacture its 1h.p. P2R series pump with an automatic shut-off de- vice. Haggard added that the general public doesn't under- stand entrapment dangers, leaving Sta-Rite responsible for pre- venting such accidents.
During deposition, Health Department officials testified that they didn't understand the proper procedures for pre- venting entrapment injuries, said Haggard. "They think that some of these old metal grates just sit there and they're not supposed to be screwed down," he said. "The education of the common people out there dealing with these pools is really... not what people think it is."
However, Sta-Rite spokesperson White contended that the trial revealed several factors contributing to the accident, "and not all of those clearly were within Sta- Rite's control;"
Sta-Rite's counsel argued that the appropriate way to prevent entrapment in- juries is with dual main drains, asserting that vacuum-breaking devices would not have solved the types of injuries found in the Peterson case.
"While our focus has always been on the Peterson family, we don't think there's anything wrong with our pool pump," said Sta-Rite attorney Sturge. The P2R pump is still in production, according to James C. Green, assistant general counsel for Sta-Rite.
Sta-Rite's insurance company, AIG, will pay most of the damages.
In 2001, Peterson's grandmother and legal guardian, Eva Mae Peterson, settled with the pool owner Roberta Segal, and the pool maintenance company, All Florida Distributors, for $7 million. .
Pool & Spa News September 5, 2003
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