The parents of Zachary Archer Cohn, whose entrapment death resulted in the criminal charging of a pool builder, have settled with all defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit for a total of $40 million.
The entire sum will go to the ZAC Foundation, a charity created in the child’s name, according to the Connecticut Law Tribune, which first reported the settlement.
This marks the closing chapter of one of the most high-profile drowning tragedies known to the industry.
In July, 2007, the six year old drowned in his parents’ backyard pool after his arm became stuck in a wall drain meant to feed a spillover spa.
In early 2008, parents Brian and Karen Cohn filed a lawsuit naming nine companies and individuals, including pool builder Shoreline Pools of Stamford, Conn., and its sister company, Shoreline Pools service; Hayward Industries, which produced the pump and drain cover; motor maker A.O. Smith (which sold its pool pump division to Regal Beloit Corp.); and distributor Baystate Pool Supplies.
Defendants were named outside the pool industry, as well: the Town of Greenwich, Conn., where the home was located and where officials stamped the original plans and approved the pool during construction; engineer Robert Frangione and his employer S.E. Minor & Co.; and Aberdeen Properties, which served as general contractor for the home and pool.
That same year, Shoreline President David Lionetti was charged with second-degree manslaughter, marking the first known case when a pool builder was charged criminally for a drowning that occurred in a pool he or she built. Police said his company recklessly caused Zachary Cohn’s death by failing to install safety devices that had been required in the state since 2004, the year before the pool was permitted.
Lionetti pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in 2011. He was spared jail time, but his company shouldered the manslaughter charge, and agreed to a number of unusual terms, including the hosting of a booth at industry trade shows to promote pool safety.
The lawsuit against Shoreline was settled at the time, but the parties did not disclose the amount. According to the Connecticut Law Tribune, Shoreline paid $11 million.
The publication also said the other defendants have now settled, so the Cohns will receive a total of $40 million. Hayward an AO Smith settled products liability claims for a combined $15 million following mediation in Massachusetts. Engineering firm S.E. Minor & Co. and general contractor Aberdeen Properties each settled for $2 million. The town of Greenwich was the last to settle, for $10 million.
Experts said the case should serve as a warning to those who don’t take the VGB Act and other safety codes seriously. Though the federal law is spottily enforced in many areas, it will come into play if there’s an accident and ensuing lawsuit, and government agencies won’t have immunity.
“In the United States, especially in Florida right now, health departments have blatantly said they’re not enforcing either the state law or VGB, because they don’t have the manpower or personnel,” said Paul Pennington, head of the Pool Safety Council. “This should be a real awakening for these municipalities. How many of them can afford a $10-million judgment?”
An expanded version of this article will appear in the upcoming issue of Pool & Spa News.