In an unusual turn of events, a Nebraska jury recently found an Omaha hotel not liable in the case of a drowning in the facility’s swimming pool.
Most lawsuits of this nature don’t get to the trial stage because an out-of-court settlement usually is reached between the parties. However, this case not only went to trial, but the defendants were found free of civil liability.
“This was a unique case,” said John Fletemeyer, a professor at Florida International University who testified for the defense.
The suit was brought by the parents of 4-year-old Iyana Allen against the owners of the Omaha Executive Inn and Deshayla Neal, a friend of Iyana’s mother. The trial began July 23, 2012. The plaintiffs claimed neglect on the part of the hotel for allowing a birthday party to take place in violation of the hotel’s own rules. The suit also alleged that hotel staff violated county regulations on maintenance.
“My client and I were pleased with the jury verdict, but have no further comment at this time as the case is on appeal,” said Earl G. Greene III, an attorney at the Omaha law firm of Woodke & Gibbons, who defended the hotel.
According to media reports, Iyana was attending a birthday party at the facility’s indoor pool. The host, Deshayla Neal, was a friend of Iyana’s mother, Monique Wise. When Wise dropped off Iyana and her sister, Trinity, she reportedly told Neal that neither girl could swim. Wise also allegedly said she would come to the party to supervise her daughters.
At first, the Allen girls stayed out of the water. Later, Neal reportedly went to Wise’s home to ask that she come to watch her daughters. Wise did not comply, but sent clothes for the girls to wear into the pool.
Later, Neal left the pool again to pick up party supplies. During this time, Iyana was captured by hotel video cameras in distress in the pool, and a bystander who was not part of the party can be seen directing her to the shallow end of the pool. Later, the video camera captured Iyana in the deep part of the pool again, in distress.
When it was noticed that Iyana was missing, it took three people searching the deep end of the pool to find the child’s body.
The hotel pool was 9 feet deep, and on the day of the drowning, the water was cloudy enough that the drain cover on the vessel’s floor could not be seen. A county regulation required that a pool must be closed if the bottom is not visible, but the pool remained open. Not long after Iyana’s death, the pool was remodeled and now it is 4 feet, 1 inch deep.
Fletemeyer, who is an expert in drowning and aquatic safety, said parental supervision of children around a pool is vital. “The Red Cross and Centers for Disease Control recommend that parents be within reach or touch of a child in or near the water,” he said.
Neal earlier pleaded guilty to criminal misdemeanor child abuse and neglect charges in connection with Iyana’s death, and was sentenced to a year’s probation.