The evisceration of a 6-year-old Minnesota girl has
brought suction entrapment to the forefront of the national
press, and likely will speed passage of the first national
pool and spa safety law.
On June 29, Abigail Taylor became entrapped in a wading
pool at the Minneapolis Golf Club.
“The drain at the bottom of the wading pool was
uncovered,” said Robert Bennett, the Taylor
family’s attorney. “She slipped and fell,
and a seal was formed.” He said that a 2-inch hole
was torn in her rectum and most of her intestines were lost
in the evisceration. Doctors had to remove the rest in
Bennett would not offer specifics, but said he believes
the family will take legal action. “Both pool
[equipment manufacturer] and operators are jointly
liable,” Bennett said. He also stated that the
drain was manufactured by Sta-Rite, whose pool product line
now is owned by Pentair Water Pool and Spa. Sta-Rite has
lost cases in the past, including a $104 million verdict in
2003 that was eventually overturned and settled. The
Minneapolis Golf Club did not return calls to Pool
& Spa News.
Besides receiving extensive coverage in the press, the
incident garnered an entire installment of the cable-TV
news program “Nancy Grace.” Bennett
appeared on the show, as well as a Minneapolis reporter, a
physician, a psychologist, other attorneys and safety
advocate Nancy Baker. Baker’s 7-year-old child,
Graeme — also the granddaughter of former
Secretary of State James Baker — died in 2002 in a
spa entrapment incident. Even a former federal prosecutor
was on hand to comment as to whether the incident
constituted a crime.
No representatives from the pool and spa or aquatics
industry were present at the taping of the show.
Because of the press, the first national pool safety law
has received widespread coverage again. The Pool &
Spa Safety Act — inspired in part by Graeme
Baker’s death — originally was introduced
in both legislative bodies last year. While the U.S. Senate
version passed, the House bill died in the
session’s final hours. It was reintroduced in the
House in March 2007.
If passed, the bills would allow states to receive grant
money by passing their own pool and spa safety laws, as
long as they meet certain criteria for addressing drowning
and entrapment hazards. The bills would pertain to new and
The legislation has moved swiftly. Two weeks after the
entrapment, the Senate bill was reintroduced. Due to
intense local attention, three Minnesota Congress members
felt compelled to add their names to the bills’
lists of sponsors. They are Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar,
Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Republican Rep. Jim
The Senate language has passed unanimously through
committee and awaits a full Senate hearing. Klobuchar
amended the bill to state that all commercial pools must be
updated for safety within a year after the law passes in
the state that applies. The House bill is scheduled for its
committee hearing July 31. The goal now is to pass the
bills before Congress recesses Aug. 3, said Rep. Debbie
Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla), who authored the House bill.
“The Abigail Taylor tragedy is just another
example of how overdue the need for pool safety legislation
is, both in terms of suction drain entrapment and drownings
in residential swimming pools,” she said.
The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals
supports the bills, for the most part. However, there are
two sticking points. If the current language passes, states
would have to require the following on pools: safety vacuum
release systems (SVRS), suction-limiting vents, gravity
drainage systems or automatic shut-off systems —
in addition to dual main drains and anti-entrapment drain
The association plans to negotiate with the
bills’ authors to change the language so it
matches APSP’s recently released entrapment
standard, which states that dual main drains and the
anti-entrapment drain covers would suffice.
“What happened to this poor child is tragic
and, from our standpoint, it underscores how important it
is for people to become aware of and begin to adhere to the
provisions of [APSP’s] new entrapment-avoidance
standard,” said APSP President/CEO Bill Weber.
“This is the answer. If the provisions of this
standard are employed, no form of entrapment could happen
Wasserman Schultz said she anticipates discussions, but
doesn’t plan to change the bill.
“It’s something we’re discussing
with [APSP], but not something I currently favor,”
she said. “I think the standard in the bill is
Paul Pennington, president of SVRS producer Vac-Alert
Industries in Fort Pierce, Fla., agrees with the
Congresswoman. He said the law should require products such
as his to compensate for instances where one of the drains
becomes clogged or a drain cover comes off.
“We know that had the SVRS been installed [in
the Minneapolis pool], it would have certainly reduced the
damages substantially,” Pennington said.
APSP also takes issue with the House bill’s
barrier language. Unlike the Senate, the House would only
permit the dwelling to constitute one side of a barrier if
it had no doors or windows. The association plans to talk
with the author on this point.
“There is no provision in any state law that
goes that far,” Weber said. “Because
there’s no policing of what goes on in backyards,
it’s critical that the homeowner choose from a
variety of layers of protection. We’re not against
isolation fencing; we’re against mandating it
because if people don’t want it, they
won’t use it. They’ll tear it
However, Wasserman Schultz doesn’t expect to
change the bill. “Sixty-five percent of the
drownings [involving] young children take place …
in the pool of the home where the child was last
seen,” she said, quoting statistics from the
National Safe Kids Campaign.
“So if you use a dwelling wall that has a
window or door as the fourth side of the barrier,”
she added, “then you are leaving 65 percent of the
children who could potentially drown vulnerable because
they can wander out the back door and fall in the
Danny Brown also contributed to this story.