Family Awarded $13 Million for Tragic Day at the Pool
For a kid, there’s nothing quite like a day at he pool on a hot summer day. But the fun-in-the-sun can turn turn tragic, though. Someone drowns everyday, and sadly, it’s usually preventable. That’s when someone needs to be held accountable.
A Tragic Visit, A Sad Statistic
Across the US, all year around, millions of people swim for fun and recreation in backyard pools, public pools, private clubs, and beaches, ponds and lakes. It’s not all fun and games, though. About 10 people drown each day. Usually, two of the victims are 14 years old or younger. In fact, drowning is the second leading cause of death for children between 1 and 14 years old.
Take Soo Hyeon Park, for example. At 13 years old, he and his family (a sister and his parents) were visiting from South Korea in July 2008; they were staying with friends in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The family, together with their friends and their teenage children, visited Graydon Pool, popular local “swimming hole” that’s owned and operated by the Village of Ridgewood. It’s not your typical pool (PDF). It’s spring fed, about three acres big, has beach areas and a “deep water” area that’s at least 12 feet deep. Even the water, though clean, looks like water you’d see at the beach, not the crystal clear water you see at the local YMCA, for example.
Park and the other teenaged boys went swimming in the deep area. For some reason, Park began struggling to stay afloat and eventually went under water. One of his friends tried to rescue him but couldn’t. Park drowned.
This isn’t a case where a kid accidentally fell into backyard pool where there wasn’t any fence or barrier to keep him out of the area. Nor is it a case where there wasn’t any adult supervision or lifeguards on duty. There are reports that Park’s mother was watching her son and became alarmed when she could no longer see him. On top of that, there were at least nine lifeguards on duty. So, what went wrong? Practically everything.
In the parents’ wrongful death lawsuit against the Village, they claimed it provided negligent supervision at the pool and that the lifeguards were negligent in their response to Park’s situation. The Village didn’t stand still, either. It filed a lawsuit against Park’s parents, as well as his teenaged friends and their parents, claiming they were negligent and responsible for Park’s death.
Ultimately, the Village’s claims were thrown out of court and, after nearly two years of legal wrangling and a month-long trial, a jury recently awarded $10 million to Park’s family. The jurors agreed that there was inadequate supervision at the pool. Here are some of the more notable items that came out during the trial:
- None of the nine or more lifeguards saw Park while he was stgruggling to stay above water
- After Park’s mother alerted the lifeguards and the pool manager, the manager ordered the lifeguards to search for Park around the pool, not inside the pool
- Lifeguards searched the parking lot for Park
- Park was not removed from the water until 40 minutes after the manager and lifeguards were alerted
Wrongful death lawsuits have nothing to do with money. People who lose loved ones certainly know that no amount of money can bring their loved ones back. These suits aren’t about money-grabs or “big paydays,” either. Instead, they’re about making sure the people responsible for the deaths are held accountable. They’re also about making sure the same tragedy doesn’t happen again.
It looks as though Park’s death has had some impact. While it’s not known what rules were in effect at the time of Park’s death, today’s version of Graydon Pool rules (PDF) state, among other things:
- Children 16 years old and younger must be supervised by an adult
- Parents/supervisors must know the whereabouts of their children, as well as their swimming capabilities
- Non-swimmers are not permitted in the deep water area
- Children must pass a “deep-water test” every year until they turn 18 years old in order to swim in the deep water area
It should be noted that the current rules were “updated” on July 23, 2008. Park died a week earlier on July 15.
It’s Serious Fun
The statistics and Park’s sad story should be enough to urge parents, swimmers, lifeguards and pool owners to take steps to keep swimmers safe. Parents, make sure your children know how to swim. While Park’s swimming abilities aren’t known, and while even experienced swimmers can be drowning victims, knowing how to swim can save a life. Also, keep an eye on your child, especially when swimming at a new and unfamiliar pool or location.
Lifeguards, please take your work seriously. Right or wrong, parents and swimmers rely on your training and expertise. Keep your eyes peeled while on duty.
Cities, villages and individual property owners alike need to make sure their pools are safe for their guests, and anyone else who may get near their pools:
- Keep the pool area fenced in
- Make sure swimmers know the rules about horseplay, boundaries and all the others do’s and don’ts
- Never leave children unattended
- Lifeguards should be trained and certified for emergency situations. Make sure they’re doing their jobs while on duty
Everyone can learn pool safety tips to prevent tragedies and help lower the staggering number of drowning deaths each year.
Dave Baarlaer writes for Lawyers.com
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