Pool Safety Council has used this space before to warn public pool owners and operators of the legal risks they face when they leave a pool open to the public that is not compliant with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. And unfortunately, an Ohio story about yet another tragic drowning death has given us reason to bring it up again.
Many of you may remember the tragic story from last summer about Hassan Itani, the 3-year-old boy who drowned in a pool at a local water park in Ohio. The attorney representing the boy’s family has now filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Kalahari Waterpark, claiming that the pool Hassan drowned in “never should have been open because its drains could potentially suck children under water.” Operating a pool with such unsafe drains is, of course, illegal thanks to the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, a federal law that requires all pools install layers of protection to protect swimmers against drain entrapment. At the time of the incident, Kalahari Waterpark was operating in violation of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, a federal law requiring pools to have layers of protection to guard against accidental drowning. And the attorney’s argument is correct – a pool that is not compliant with the law should not be open in the first place.
This lawsuit sets a precedent for litigation against pools who do not comply with the federal law. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has recently begun inspecting pools and spas to ensure compliance with the VGB Act. This nationwide effort is one of the first large scale enforcement efforts of the law. Any pool or spa not in compliance with the VGB Act is open illegally and faces fines starting at $100,000 and going as high as $15 million. And any pool where a child drowns is found to be non-compliant may face much, much worse consequences.
Time will tell how this lawsuit pans out. But public pools and spas around the country – and the insurance companies that cover them – would do well to take notice of this mess. If Kalahari is convicted this case will open the door to lawsuits against pools over liability issues. As we at PSC always point out, becoming compliant is a simple, inexpensive process – install approved safety drain covers, and install an anti-entrapment device like a Safety Vacuum Release System. Pool operators and owners, do swimmers – and yourselves – a favor: install this equipment right away.