A lawsuit involving the entrapment death of an American at a Bahamian resort has been settled.
In 2010, John Van Hoy Jr., a 33-year-old from Liberty, Mo., became stuck to an inground spa drain at the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort in Nassau. His fiancée called for help, and several guests tried unsuccessfully to release him. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit said the staff did not help free the man nor attempt CPR.
A lawsuit was filed the following year naming several defendants, including Jamaican-based Sandals and its marketing representative, Unique Vacations, as well as pool and spa equipment manufacturers A.O. Smith Corp., Hayward Industries, Pentair Aquatic Systems and its subsidiary Sta-Rite, and distributors SCP and Hospitality Purveyors.
The plaintiffs alleged the spa was unsafe and had only a single drain with an unsafe cover and no other entrapment-protection measures. They said the drain cover was not secured and that velocities through the drain exceeded Florida’s legal limit of 1.5 feet per second. They also claimed the system had no shut-off switch and that the pump room could not be accessed, which prevented anyone from quickly shutting down the system.
Because the incident occurred overseas, much of the legal maneuvering has addressed the question of where the lawsuit should be heard. Sandals and other defendants sought to dismiss the case, contending the proper venue was the Bahamas, with the defendants held to Bahamian law. But because the resort books largely from the United States, and because all defendants but Sandals are based here, the plaintiffs claimed the case should be heard in American courts, with U.S. codes referred to at least as minimum standards of practice, if not applicable law. Additionally, their attorney said, any alleged wrongdoing committed by the manufacturers and distributors occurred on U.S. soil.
Last year, a U.S. District Court judge in Miami sided with the plaintiffs. Some saw this as a sign that similar lawsuits could be heard in the United States, with foreign properties held to U.S. standards.
Pentair had settled a while back. All remaining defendants settled the case last month. The terms are confidential, and the parties agreed that the settlement does not imply blame on the part of the defendants.
“The important things to the Van Hoy family, that certain conditions were met to protect other families from suffering the same fate … those terms were met and agreed upon by Sandals,” said Keith Brais, principal of Miami-based Brais, Brais & Rusak. “I know ... they were happy about the satisfaction of those terms.”
Because of the confidentiality clause, he would not elaborate further on what those conditions were, other than to say, “Certain safety considerations prospectively were also a very important part of any settlement for the plaintiffs.”
At another point, he commented, “I actually commend anyone for looking to [the VGBA requirements] as minimal safety guidelines.” But he couldn’t say if Sandals has done that.
Brais added that the settlement will correct the financial losses suffered by Van Hoy’s sons. “You can obviously never replace a father [and his ] love, nurturing guidance and support,” Brais said. “The only thing that can be achieved, which is financial accountability, was certainly accomplished in this case.”