Local News

Jury Awards Record $25 Million in Pool Drain Trial

Posted January 13, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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 as well, although the amount was not disclosed.

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, who declined to comment on Monday's award, said 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.