Swimming Pool Grate Accident Results in Prosecution of Executive

A May 13, 2011 Wall Street Journal page A3 article titled, Owning Up to Boy’s Death, describes a swimming pool accident and the subsequent prosecution of a swimming pool company executive for a young boy’s death.

Several years ago we (PGIC) saw the similarities between swimming pool grate accidents in which people were sucked into a swimming pool grate often on the bottom of a pool, and being sucked into a propeller. Since then, we followed the establishment of the Virginia Graeme Baker Act (VGB Act), written in response to the death of Virginia Baker in a 2002 swimming pool drain. The Virginia Graeme Baker Act establishes certain design practices and grate components for public pools to eliminate such accidents. The VGB Act left regulation of private pools to the states. About half of all swimming pool grate entrapment accidents occur in private pools.

Just months before the passage of the VGB Act in December 2007, in the summer of 2007 a six year old boy in Connecticut, Zachary Cohn, had his arm entrapped in the drain of a private pool. His father spent several minutes trying to free him, and the young boy drowned.

The State of Connecticut prosecuted David Lionetti, president of Shoreline Pools for manslaughter. The state claimed the pool company “failed to install a device that would have shut off the pump when an object got in the way.”

In April 2011, Mr. Loinetti pleaded guilty to lesser charges of criminally negligent homicide which is a misdemeanor. He was put on three years probation and required to perform 500 hours of community service. His company, Shoreline Pools, was ordered to pay $150,000 to a pool safety organization founded by Zachary’s parents.

Swimming pool safety advocates hope the decision leads to broader applications of pool drain safety devices. They cite the relatively low fatality count since the 1980’s and respond the number could be much higher. Many police and medical records to no list the specific cause in drownings.

A pool equipment distributor said, “It sends the message that ‘Holy Cow’ we’d better know what we’re doing here, because there are serious implications if we don’t.”

A lawyer representing the young boy’s family in a separate civil suit said, “It was clear that both Lionetti and Shoreline’s behavior was to pay lip service to safety regulations.”

The industry’s association, the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals (APSP), lobbied against tougher rules for private pools. APSP responded, “Safety has always been a core value of the association and remains a core value.”

In addition to the VGB Act, the State of Connecticut law requires ALL pools built after September 2004 to have drain covers designed to keep people from being trapped underwater, at least two main drains and a device that eliminates suction if a drain becomes blocked. The Cohns’ pool was built in 2005, after the new code took effect.

At the trial, a board member of APSP testified he spoke to Lionetti by phone back in October 2005 (prior to the death of Zachary Cohn in 2007) about the construction code changes that would have prevented the boy’s death. Those design changes were not incorporated into the pool.

In a 2008 statement to the New York Times, the Cohn family said, “Nothing will ever bring our son Zachary back, but we hope that through these legal proceedings other families will be spared the horrible tragedy we have suffered.”

PGIC Comments

We do not think our readers need much help in connecting the dots to similarities between the swimming pool situation and propeller safety issues, between the responses of industry groups and executives, the issue of under reporting of accidents, or the desire of the young boy’s family to prevent other families from having to go through similar tragedies.

By watching other industries go through similar exercises, we can gain more insights into how the boating industry is responding or may respond to propeller safety issues, and possible paths to raising their priority.

Leave a Reply