Judge Rules Sandals Resorts & Pool Component Manufacturers Must Stand Trial in Miami, Florida for Bahamas Entrapment Drowning Death
Resort and vacation injury lawyers Keith S. Brais and Richard D. Rusak of Brais, Brais & Rusak recently won a significant victory in Miami Federal Court in a lawsuit involving the December 28, 2010 hot tub entrapment drowning death of John Van Hoy, Jr., father of two adopted children. Click this link to read the Order denying the defendants' motion to dismiss the wrongful death case.
Sandals Resorts heavily advertises in the United States. Historically Sandals Resorts has earned tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars from U.S. vacationers lured to its Caribbean resorts. Sandals Resorts and its sister company Beaches have their sales and marketing agent, Unique Vacations, Inc., a mere stone's throw from the Miami International Airport. See, photo below:
And finally, Sandals Resorts when it's to its benefit sues in the United States at the drop of a hat. Despite all of this and more, if you are seriously injured or worse die at a Sandals Resort, Sandals will argue: (a) it ought not be sued in the United States, (b) your U.S. lawsuit should be dismissed and (c) that your lawsuit must be refiled in the Caribbean Island where the accident occurred under antiquated and much less plaintiff friendly laws all in an effort to escape or greatly limit liability. Gordon "Butch" Stewart, founder of Sandals Resorts, is reportedly a millionaire hundreds of times over, if not a billionaire. Good for him and his family. With his substantial empire, however, comes great responsibility, including the repair, maintenance and upkeep of the Sandals' properties to ensure minimal and well-recognized safety standards are met. In the case of pools and hot tubs this includes, but is not limited to one or a combination of the following:
1. Dual suction outlet drains (per pump),
2. Nearby emergency shut-off switches,
3. ASME/ANSI A112.19.8 compliant suction outlet drain covers,
4. Unblockable Drain (with minimal dimensions of 18" x 23", see example drawings below),
5. Safety Vacuum Release System (SVRS) or similar device to automatically turn off an electric motor or otherwise eliminate the vacuum holding force in the event an obstruction is detected (compliant with ASME/ASNI A112.19.17),
6. Suction-Limiting Vent System that meets ASTM F2387
7. Gravity Drainage System (see, exemplar diagram below),
Court papers filed in Miami, Florida allege John Van Hoy, Jr. was using a hot tub at the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort in Nassau, Bahamas, where he was vacationing with his fiancée Nicole Cleaveland. At some point, John became trapped underwater about his lower back a consequence of which he could not surface. The technical term is "entrapment". Entrapment results in suction or hold-down forces that result from one or a combination of improperly designed pools/hot tubs, electric motors, pumps, suction outlet drain sumps, suction outlet drain covers and/or filters all alleged to be unsafe and defective in the Van Hoy Complaint. These types of enormous hold down suction forces are not uncommon, particularly with single suction outlet drains and have resulted in countless and completely preventable serious personal injuries, deaths and eviscerations. Below are links to just some news stories on suction entrapment.
ABC News Story on Suction Entrapment
Play It Safe Slide Show of Suction Entrapment Victims
The Abigail Taylor Story
20/20 Pool Entrapment Special Pt. 1
20/20 Pool Entrapment Special Pt. 2
Pool Safety Council Drain Suction Experiment
Pool & Spa News Article
Nicole, realizing John had not surfaced, jumped into the hot tub and tried free John from the suction outlet drain at the bottom of the hot tub or minimally to raise his head above the waterline. The suction force was so great; Nicole was unable to free John. Nicole began to scream for help. Sandals employees, hearing the screams, all but ignored Nicole; some even walked away. Guests staying at the resort, however, reacted quickly and in an effort to save John's life jumped into the hot tub and began pulling and lifting on John's body. In total somewhere between six and eight guests, all pulling on his body, couldn't free John from the entrapment hold-down forces until it was too late. After John was finally freed many of these same guests and others, including a doctor from Illinois, began efforts to resuscitate John for the lengthy period of time it took for Island ambulance personnel to appear.
A guest on a balcony over looking the hot tub took a harrowing video of the event. In the video that lasts approximately 45 minutes, a Sandals' employee can be seen only momentarily performing CPR and later the same or different Sandals employee is seen lifting John's legs while the guests performed the bulk of the resuscitation efforts. Most shocking, Sandals employees are seen folding towels just feet from the on going resuscitation efforts. Most sadly and needlessly, John died that night leaving his mother Myrna, father John, Sr., two sisters, one brother, fiancée Nicole, and sons Tyler & Landon.
Sandals spends untold money advertising and soliciting Americans to come to its resorts. Sandals CEO Gordon "Butch" Stewart and President Adam Stewart maintain offices in Miami, Florida. The pool component manufacturers: Hayward Industries, Inc., A.O. Smith Corp., Pentair Water Pool and Spa, Inc., and Sta-Rite Industries, LLC, are all U.S. manufacturers. Nonetheless, defendants argued that it would be inconvenient to stand trial in Federal Court in Miami, Florida. Additionally the defendants argued the case ought to be moved to the Bahamas. It is assumed the real reason Sandals and the pool component manufacturers raised these arguments had nothing to do with inconvenience and everything to do with avoiding a United States jury deciding a wrongful death case of an American citizen.
In an impressive detailed order, a Miami Federal Court held that Sandals (as well as the hot tub's pump assembly manufacturers / suppliers) failed to make a convincing argument that having the wrongful death case heard in Miami (which is less than an hour's flight from the Bahamas) would be materially unjust to any of the Defendants.
This case is very significant as it apparently opens to doors to lawsuits against Sandals by United States citizens in American courts. This case will be used for evermore as precedent that American Courts should safe guard Americans while vacationing outside the United States.
The resort and vacation lawyers at Brais, Brais and Rusak continue to act as safety advocates for U.S. citizens traveling to resort destinations outside the United States. Any persons with information regarding John Van Hoy, Jr.'s death are urged to contact the firm.