The first known plaintiff to cite the Virginia Graeme Baker Act in
a wrongful-death lawsuit is no longer claiming that her husband
died from an entrapment.
Though she names other factors, such as improper rescue equipment
and insufficient staffing, as the direct cause of her
husband’s death, her lawsuit still cites a VGB
On April 11, 2009, 38-year-old Lorenzo Williams and his family were
swimming at a pool in Pittsburgh’s Downtown Athletic Club.
After losing sight of Williams, his wife, Erika, spotted him lying
motionless at the bottom of the pool’s deep end.
Erika Williams, who could not swim, made numerous attempts to save
her husband, first trying to grasp him with a nearby
shepherd’s hook that proved to be too short, and then running
to the front desk for help, only to find no one was there. She also
tried to call 911 from a phone in the pool area, but it
Staff members eventually were found; however, the first was unable
to pull Williams’ 6-foot-1-inch, 202-pound frame out of the
water. The second employee got him out of the pool, but Erika
Williams estimated her husband had already been underwater 15
minutes. Two other workers attempted to give Williams chest
compressions, but because his mouth was foaming, were afraid to
perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Williams was transported to a
nearby hospital, where he died.
What happened to Lorenzo Williams while he was underwater is
unknown. He was a capable swimmer and, according to his wife, had
no ailment that would cause him to lose consciousness. In her
initial complaint against the Downtown Athletic Club and the
Doubletree Hotel and Suites housing the facility, Erika Williams
explained this mystery by alleging that her husband was stuck to
the drain. These claims received prominent coverage in the local
But even back then, police investigators said the evidence did not
point to an entrapment and Williams’ attorney said much more
discovery was yet to be performed.
The most recently filed court documents focus on equipment and
staff issues rather than drain covers. Local code required
lifeguards to be present when the pool was used, according to the
plaintiff, who also stated that the athletic club had been cited
more than once for violating that code, with the last time as
recently as a few weeks before the drowning.
Both sides admit the pool was far from VGB-compliant. Even court
documents filed by the defendant state that the 17-inch square
drain didn’t have a cover. The facility owners claimed to
have not known about the law, court documents said.
But the defendants strongly dispute the original entrapment claim.
Reports from expert witnesses say that, among other things, the
pump was only capable of moving water at approximately 0.34 feet
per second, well under the maximum-allowed flow rates.
Additionally, if Lorenzo Williams had been entrapped, he could not
have been removed from the pool by staff, according to the defense.
And finally, the coroner found no marks on the body that would have
resulted from being pinned to the drain.
The coroner’s report called Williams’ death an
accidental drowning and stated that the victim showed no sign of
coronary artery disease or other cardiovascular abnormality.
However, the defendants claim the victim passed out underwater.
They state that Williams had diabetes, had lost consciousness in
the past, and had a slightly enlarged heart. Additionally, the
defendants said, there was no account of the victim struggling or
seeking help, which he would have done if he were conscious.
Considering this, the defense further stated, it isn’t clear
that Williams would have survived if he’d been removed from
the pool sooner.
The defendants deny liability for the drowning, saying the victim
signed a release and that signs were posted stating there were no
lifeguards. They also said the shepherd’s hook was not meant
to rescue an unconscious person in the deep end, but rather,
someone in the shallow end who could actively help themselves back
Yet the removal of an entrapment claim from the court documents
doesn’t mean the facility’s lack of VGB compliance
won’t come up in further proceedings, said Ray Arouesty, an
attorney and president of Arrow Insurance Service in Simi Valley,
“The plaintiff’s attorney would attempt to introduce
[the infraction] to show an overall pattern of neglect when it came
to maintaining the pool,” he said.
“A pool owner who has failed to comply with the VGBA
requirements is going to have a much more difficult time defending
themselves in court in a drowning case, even if it’s
unrelated to entrapment, because of the inference that a jury could
draw,” Arouesty added.
Attorneys for both parties declined to comment on ongoing