Local News

Family Reaches Settlement that Guarantees $25 Million Payment

Posted Updated

RALEIGH — North Carolina law has changed as a resultof the trial involving the family of a Wake County girl who wasnearly killed by a wading pool drain. Valerie Lakey was awarded a record$25 million jury award which will help her family with ongoing medicalcare.

The family of Valerie Lakey and Sta-Rite Industries of Wisconsin reached a settlement Tuesday morningbefore a jury was to consider whether additional, punitive damages shouldbeawarded in the case. The agreement calls for Monday's $25 millioncompensatory damages award tostay intact, but the family agreed not to seek additional punitivedamages, which could have meant a payout of millions more by Sta-Rite.Meanwhile, the companyagreed not to appeal Monday's verdict and award.

Gary Parsons, attorney for Sta-Rite says he thinks the verdict andsettlement pleasedeveryone.

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

Valerie's reaction? "I'm just happy my parents are out of court," shesaid. WRAL TV5's Bret Baier asked her howshe was feeling.

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

In addition, North Carolina law will now require every pool to have twodrains which will reduce the need for such powerful suction in just one.

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.

Valerie's father, David Lakey, says he's relieved Valerie can receivethe care she needs now.

Last year, the Medfield club settled with the Lakeys for $500,000. WakeCounty, 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 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.

Edwards says there was a lot at stake in this trial.

But attorneys for Sta-Rite had argued that the recreation center wasnegligent for not properly fastening thedrain cover.

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

Copyright 2023 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.