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Family Reaches Settlement that Guarantees $25 Million Payment

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

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.

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.

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 theLakeys' attorneys by the of the month.

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 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.

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.

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

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