David and Sandy Lakey sued Medfield, Wake County and Sta-Rite on
their daughter’s behalf. The club and the county have settled. The
case against Sta-Rite now is in its second week of evidence. Ten women
and two men sit on the jury.
The Lakeys have asked for $35 million to $40 million. They
argue that Sta-Rite knew of the dangers of pool-drain covers that are
not affixed with screws. The cover in the Medfield wading pool snapped
on and could be pulled off.
The company said it knew about two accidents involving open pool
drains, including one involving a Henderson, N.C., boy in 1981. But Sta-Rite
did not put warnings on the drain covers until mid-1987. The Medfield
cover was made in February 1987.
Last week, the Lakeys’ lawyers asked Sta-Rite to provide company
documents on any suction-entrapment accident, even if it did not involve
a drain cover. John Edwards and David Kirby said the documents show that
the company knew about the overall dangers its products posed.
Sta-Rite’s Raleigh lawyers, Tricia Kerner and Gary Parsons, argued
that they had never been asked for such documents before, and such a
request in the middle of a trial was a burden. Superior Court Judge
Robert Farmer told them to get the papers.
They arrived Monday. On Tuesday morning, Edwards and Kirby told
Farmer that before 1987, Sta-Rite knew of eight other cases of suction
entrapment, most of them children receiving injuries similar to Valerie’s.
Between 1987 and 1993, another five people were injured or killed by
suction entrapment, including a Durham girl who suffered an intestinal
injury in 1991.
If Farmer allows the jury to learn about these other
cases, Edwards and Kirby likely will argue that Sta-Rite did nothing
to make its products safer, even as more people were hurt.
The company wants to keep the jury from seeing those
documents and will argue that the extra cases did not involve
pool-drain covers and thus are irrelevant to the Lakeys’ claim.
Sta-Rite is a subsidiary of Wicor, the parent company
of the utility Wisconsin Gas Co.
In his testimony, David Lakey recounted the laborious
process of making sure Valerie gets fed, keeps clean, and stays as
normal as possible every day. He narrated a videotape of her at Wake
Medical Center and at home.