Our firm settled a pool drowning case last month involving the drowning death of two children at Cyprus Court Apartments in Montgomery, Ala. The apartments were owned and operated by Fontenbleu Management Company, based in New Orleans, La. The children, ages 7 and 5, wandered away from their family’s apartment on April 23, 2012, to go to the playground at the apartment complex. Their father had gone to the gas station and the mother was making a bottle for the boys’ younger brother when the two children, who had been watching cartoons, left the apartment without anyone knowing that they were gone. As pointed out above, almost 400 small children are drowned each year in swimming pools. The Consumer Protection Safety Commission has made this data, along with safety recommendations, available to owners and operators of swimming pools. The information has been readily available for several years.
The apartment complex swimming pool in this case was located just a few feet away from a playground that was open to residents without restriction. Once the boys arrived at the playground, they saw the swimming pool and went over to it. They found a hole in the fence that was around the swimming pool. The city of Montgomery has an ordinance that requires fences around all swimming pools. It also prohibits holes in the fences greater than 6 inches so that unattended children can’t get access to the pool area. The younger brother, who couldn’t swim, entered the pool area and he fell in the pool and drowned. Statistics show that a child his age would drown in as little as 20 seconds. The older brother, who was also unable to swim, jumped into the pool in an effort to save his brother. He also drowned.
The management and employees of the apartment complex denied that a hole had ever existed in the fence. But residents countered those claims when they testified in depositions that there had been holes in the fence for months leading up to the drowning. Several residents testified that other children had been seen entering the pool area the day before the incident through the very same hole that the two victims used to get in. In fact some of the residents said they had actually gotten into the pool themselves through a hole in the fence when they were younger.
The case was vigorously litigated with as many as 41 depositions being taken and thousands of pages of documents produced. Each side had experts, a total of five, and the legal issues involved in the case were extremely complex. We alleged and were ready to prove that the swimming pool at the complex was poorly managed and improperly maintained. Required inspections of the pool were either not done or done improperly from a distance or in some cases from a vehicle.
Personnel at the complex, including the manager, had to have known that children were getting into this pool area when it was closed through holes in the fence. Fortunately, our firm’s investigators were able to obtain photographs taken by a company in North Carolina that had inspected the property. These photographs that were extremely damaging to the Defendants revealed that the apartment complex had a history of holes in the fence that had existed several years back. In fact, one of those photographs showed an employee of the complex at the pool and a hole in the fence clearly visible. This employee had testified that he had never seen a hole in the fence.
This case is a testament to hard work and persistence by the lawyers, staff and investigators in our firm who were involved in the case. The family lost so much and they have had a most difficult time dealing with their loss. The amount of the settlement is confidential. Chris Glover, Cole Portis and Dana Taunton from our firm, along with Montgomery lawyer Darron Hendley, handled this case. They did a very good job and got an excellent result for the family.
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