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Jury Awards Record $25 Million in Pool Drain Trial

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RALEIGH — A Wake County jury awarded a record $25million in damages Monday to a Cary family whose daughter was permanentlyinjured in 1993 by suction from a pool drain.

Legal observers say it was the largest damage award ever in NorthCarolina, and that figure could climb.

The same jury will return Tuesday to consider punitive damagesagainst Wisconsin-based Sta-Rite Industries, which manufactured the drain. The$25 million awarded Monday was for pain and suffering and medicalexpenses. Attorneys for the family of Valerie Lakey had for $42 million.

"Now she's going to be taken care of," her father, David Lakey, toldWRAL-TV5's Bret Baier. "She will cometo appreciate what this jury did today."

"This will provide some closure," added Sandy Lakey, mother of theinjured girl. "But the healing process will go on for sometime."

Valerie, 9, was 5 years old when she went to the Medfield AreaRecreationClub in Cary with her father on June 24, 1993. The drain cover in thewading poolhad been removed by someone, and Valerie sat on the opening. The suctionwas so strong that four adults could not pull Valerie from the drain.

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

Last year, the Medfield club settled with the Lakeys for $500,000. WakeCounty, which certified the pool, settled as well,although the amount was not disclosed.

The Lakeys' attorneys, John Edwards and David Kirby, argued thatSta-Rite had failed to take action to prevent injuries eventhough 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 1974accident similar to Valerie's; in 1981, a boy in Henderson was killed thesame way.

But attorneys for Sta-Rite, who declined to comment on Monday's award,said the recreation center was negligent for not properly fastening thedrain cover.

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

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