The first drain entrapment lawsuit known to have successfully cited
the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act has been
In July 2009, 56-year-old Bill Stock, a paraplegic, was held under
water after his foot and leg became trapped on a large suction
grate while he was swimming in a large lagoon pool at the Hilton
Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa in Honolulu.
According to court records, it took three adults to free Stock, who
died the next day.
Stock’s family sued the Hilton and a number of other parties
involved in the lagoon’s engineering, construction and
design. The suit was for negligence, wrongful death, and violation
of the Consumer Product Safety Act and the VGBA.
Other defendants included Tom Nance Water Resource Engineering;
Delta Construction Corp.; Alcon & Associates Inc.;
consultant James B. Walfish; and Plas-Tech
The case settled for an undisclosed sum.
While the plaintiffs suffered a great loss, they believe the suit
may have made a difference in terms of safety awareness, according
to their attorney.
“[The relatives] feel like the defendants got the message
loud and clear,” said Loretta Sheen, an attorney with Davis
Levin Livingston in Honolulu. “They feel satisfied that the
Hilton and other defendants are going to take protection really
seriously from here on out. ... They feel like they may have done
something to affect someone’s life, and they actually feel
good about that.”
The body of water where the incident occurred was far from a
conventional swimming pool. The 5-acre, man-made lagoon used
recirculated ocean water and only had one suction outlet — an
8-foot-long grate that sat close to the water’s surface, the
Stocks’ attorneys said.
Though the grate was too large to be blocked by a human body, it
had a flow rate of 15,000 gallons per minute which was more than
strong enough to pin Stock underwater. A few years before the
incident, the lagoon’s original pump was replaced with one
powerful enough to boost the turnover rate from 2½ times a day
to five times a day.
Witnesses reported seeing small eddies form over the drain, and the
attorneys said that fish and debris were pinned against it.
Additionally, the grate was surrounded by rocks on three sides,
creating something of a small cave. When filing the lawsuit,
Stocks’ attorneys theorized this may have added to the
vortexing and suction from the outlet.
The victim’s family charged that the drain cover did not
comply with the VGBA and said there was no pump shut-off device or
quickly identifiable and accessible emergency shut-off
During discovery for the case, the Stocks’ attorneys found
out that the flat drain cover had broken and there had been plans
to replace it, Sheehan said. They also learned that the
system’s plumbing measured as much as 36 inches in
Attorneys for most of the defendants could not be reached by
A lawyer for James Walfish characterized his client as a minor
player in the tragedy. Though Walfish was involved in some aspects
of the lagoon’s design, most of his ideas were not used, said
Jeffrey Portnoy from the Honolulu-based firm Cades Schutte.