of architectural and engineering
services for ICC. "It's hard to say for sure."
For its part, NSPI has begun to
write its own voluntary standards designed to prevent suction entrapment.
"The standards will describe the
phenomena and break it down into the five categories and then define the
technologies that will take care of each specific type of entrapment," says
Carvin DiGiovanni, the trade group's senior director of technical education
and government relations. "It won't damage the existing SVRS [market]. In fact, it will embrace it."
But besides relying on codes and
standards, what should industry members do? Are pool and spa equipment
manufacturers culpable for the products they produce? A Miami jury certainly
thought so. In September 2003, it found pump manufacturer Sta-Rite
liable for $104 million in the suction entrapment of teenager Lorenzo
Peterson, who was left in a vegetative state after getting his arm entrapped
in an apartment complex pool's main drain. It is the largest judgment
to date against a maker of pool or spa equipment.
"They were found liable in that
they had a design defect," explains Michael Haggard, the attorney
Peterson family, who
claims pump manufacturers, should have a built-in device that senses vacuum
buildup and then automatically shuts down.
Many in the pool and
spa industry thought the Peterson jury had missed the point. "The Sta-Rite
judgment was absurd," says Bill Kent, president of Homer Equipment, a
be responsible for
their own activities
distributor of pool products
based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "I think ultimately [individuals] should be
responsible for their own activities. And as long as [products] are safe in
the normal use pattern, I think, morally and ethically, we can feel good
about them. But the court has decided that something bad has happened, so
someone has to pay for it."
The problem, says Water Pik's
Nibler, is that the industry is a "custom built project" business. "We can't
always foresee the conditions and design parameters," he says. "You can
never [predict] how the end user might abuse normal, logical safety
parameters. You just can't control 100 percent of all situations."
Maybe not. But if pump
manufacturers, along with pool builders themselves, don't take matters into
their own hands, the jury awards are likely to continue to grow and the
federal government may decide it's time to step in. It did so in 1996 with
the automotive industry, making airbags a legal requirement in the wake of
strong consumer demand.
"Why wait until we have one
summer when [a number of] kids are getting entrapped and it hits the
papers?" Stoner asks. "We don't want to wait, and then react and get a black
eye. The thing is, all this stuff can be fixed. And it's more business for
the industry [by selling safety products], while at the same time putting a
good image on it.
"Making safer pools -tell me how
that's a negative thing. It's win-win." .
& Spa News would like to thank
Joe Cohen, owner of Fail,Safe, for
to this article.
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