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ARTICLE ID 43331

$________ - Swimming pool failed to have safety float line to differentiate and mark depth change in pool - 17-year-old girl suffers near drowning - Permanent anoxic brain injury resulting in permanent vegetative state.

King County, Washington

This was a premises liability matter in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant was negligent in failing to have a safety float line in place to differentiate the shallow end from the deep end of the pool. The defendant claimed that the plaintiff was negligent for being in the pool when it was not officially open.

The 17-year-old plaintiff and her family resided at the defendant apartments. The apartments were owned by the defendant Morton Enterprises and managed by the defendant Philips Real Estate Services. The resident manager resided on the premises, but was not trained in any way in the use of the safety float line or pool safety, although he was responsible for managing and maintaining the pool at the premises.

On June 6, ________, a few days after the opening of the defendant’s pool, the plaintiff, her sister (age 16), her cousin (age 22) and her stepmother (age 31) went to wade and cool off in the swimming pool. The four were non-swimmers. They were immigrants from Eritrea, North Africa and had never been in a swimming pool before. They did not have bathing suits and wore shorts into the pool. The pool did not have a safety float line differentiating the shallow end of the pool from the deep end. The pool had a depth of nine feet.

The plaintiff and her sister entered the pool on the shallow end and waded into the pool. They were unaware that the slope of the pool abruptly changed from four feet to nine feet. The other two women were seated on the edge of the pool. While wading in the pool, the plaintiff and her sister went underwater almost simultaneously when they went near the portion of the pool where the slope abruptly changed. The two girls started drowning. The other two women waded into the pool to help the girls. However, the cousin was pulled into the water and began drowning herself. Over the next few minutes, a chaotic situation occurred. There was no lifeguard on duty, no one knew where the ________ phone was located and no one knew how to save the drowning women. Bystanders rescued the plaintiff’s younger sister and cousin, but no one immediately realized that the plaintiff was still underwater.

About ten minutes passed before anyone realized that the plaintiff was still under the water. At that point, the manager’s son dove into the pool and pulled the plaintiff out. She was at the bottom of the deep end of the pool, unconscious and not breathing. Chest compressions and CPR were initiated and ________ was called. Paramedics arrived and the plaintiff was taken by ambulance to the Children’s Hospital in Seattle, Washington. She was diagnosed with anoxic brain injury from the near drowning event. She is in a persistent vegetative state and is in a long- term care facility.

The plaintiff brought suit against the defendant apartment building and its manager alleging that they were negligent in failing to place a safety float line in the pool to designate the shallow end of the pool from the deep end of the pool. The float line was hanging on the pool enclosure fence. The plaintiff argued that the safety float line was required and had in fact been on the pool the day before according to a photograph used on the defendant’s website to advertise the apartments.

The defendant argued that the plaintiff was negligent. The issue of the plaintiff and her stepmother’s comparative negligence survived summary judgment and was presented to the jury. The defendant disputed the plaintiff’s allegations that a safety float line was necessary. The plaintiffs argued that a safety float line was required by national swimming pool industry standards. The defendant argued that industry standards did not mandate the use of float lines and that Washington state law made the use of float lines optional because the pool in question had a bottom marker line delineating the division of the pool.

The matter was settled through post-mediation negotiation with the mediator. The settlement was finalized a week before trial and the net proceeds were divided between the plaintiff and her father. A special needs trust was established so that the plaintiff could continue to receive access to public benefits.

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