A Florida judge has decided to hear a lawsuit involving an overseas suction entrapment.
In December, 2010, 33-year-old John Van Hoy Jr. drowned after becoming entrapped on an inground-spa drain at the Sandals Royal Bahamian resort in Nassau.
In May, 2011, Van Hoy’s relatives filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Miami, naming not only Sandals and its marketing representative, Unique Vacations, but pool and spa manufacturers A.O. Smith Corp., Hayward Industries, Pentair Water Pool and Spa and its subsidiary, Sta-Rite, as well as distributors SCP and Hospitality Purveyors.
The family claimed that the spa was unsafe, saying it had a single-drain system, unsafe drain covers and no safety vacuum release system or other form of entrapment protection. They also alleged the drain cover was not properly fastened, that the water velocity through the drain exceeded Florida’s legal limit of 1.5 feet per second, that there was no shut-off switch for the system and that the pump room was inaccessible, making it impossible to quickly disable the equipment.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case, stating the U.S. is not the proper venue, given that the incident occurred in the Bahamas. The Van Hoy family said it should be able to sue in the U.S. because Sandals does extensive business here and the other defendants are U.S.-based.
The court stated the defendants did not sufficiently prove that conducting the case in the U.S. would cause an injustice or impose an unreasonable burden on their ability to include their witnesses or provide evidence, with the exception of one charge. The judge also acknowledged that the burden of proof is heaviest for defendants in these situations. “[The] presumption for a plaintiff's choice of forum is strongest when the plaintiff is a United States citizen,” Judge Patricia A. Seitz wrote in her decision.
Cited by the plaintiffs is the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, the federal pool and spa safety bill mandating certain entrapment-protection measures. It isn’t known if the defendants will be held to the American law during the trial. However, at the very least, it can be cited as an example of minimum standards of practice, said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Keith Brais of Miami-based Brais and Brais.
Brais said the decision also could impact protections for American citizens traveling abroad.
This is a developing Pool & Spa News exclusive. The story will be updated as details become available.