Local News

Family Reaches Settlement that Guarantees $25 Million Payment

Posted January 14, 1997

— The family of a Wake County girl who was nearly killed by a wading pool drain will not have to await years of appeals and uncertainly following a record $25 million jury award.

The family of Valerie Lakey and Sta-Rite Industries of Wisconsin reached a settlement Tuesday morning before a jury was to consider whether additional, punitive damages should be awarded in the case. The agreement calls for Monday's $25 million compensatory damages award to stay intact, but the family agreed not to seek additional punitive damages, which could have meant a payout of millions more by Sta-Rite. Meanwhile, the company agreed not to appeal Monday's verdict and award.

The agreement eliminates the possibility that the record award, the largest damage award in North Carolina history, could be reduced on appeals, which can drag on for years.

Valerie's reaction? "I'm just happy my parents are out of court," she said.

With Tuesday's settlement, Valerie's family has won damages totaling $30.9 million. Sta-Rite has agreed to send a $25 million check to the Lakeys' attorneys by the of the month.

Valerie, 9, was 5 years old when she went to the Medfield Area Recreation Club in Cary with her father on June 24, 1993. The drain cover in the wading pool had been removed by someone, and Valerie sat on the opening. The suction was so strong that four adults could not pull Valerie from the drain.

About 80 percent of Valerie's intestines were pulled from her body. As a result of the injuries, Valerie must be fed intravenously for about 12 hours each day, and she may face liver and kidney transplants.

Last year, the Medfield club settled with the Lakeys for $500,000. Wake County, which certified the pool, settled for $2.5 million, and the maker of the wading pool pump settled for $2.9 million.

The Lakeys' attorneys, John Edwards and David Kirby, argued that Sta-Rite had failed to take action to prevent injuries even though it knew of at least a dozen cases where people had become trapped or injured on pool drains. A California child was killed in a 1974 accident similar to Valerie's; in 1981, a boy in Henderson was killed the same way.

But attorneys for Sta-Rite had argued that the recreation center was negligent for not properly fastening the drain cover.

Sta-Rite, a subsidiary of Wisconsin Gas Co., is one of the nation's largest makers of pool equipment.

Watch WRAL-TV5 News at 5 and 6 p.m. for the latest developments in the case.

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