YMCA sued again over death in pool area

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“YMCA sued again over death in pool area”

MIDWEST CITY: 11/21/2006 – The YMCA was negligent by failing to supervise its whirlpool when a [City] woman died as a result of using it two years ago, according to a lawsuit filed in County District Court. The family and estate of [Deceased], 74, [City], filed the lawsuit last week alleging the YMCA failed to put a lifeguard in view of the whirlpool or to check the whirlpool temperature.

Officials with the YMCA could not be reached for comment Monday.

It is the second lawsuit filed this year regarding the YMCA's pool area. The first was filed in March after a High School student drowned during swimming class. That case currently is headed for trial.

According to the latest lawsuit, [Deceased] and her husband were at the YMCA the morning of Nov. 16, 2004. They were “long time” members. After doing some water exercises, the couple got into the whirlpool. After several minutes, [husband] left and went to the locker room while his wife remained in the spa.

At about 10:30 a.m., another YMCA member found [Deceased] floating face down in the whirlpool, the lawsuit states. A lifeguard pulled her out of the water and began CPR. At the hospital, [Deceased] had an increased core temperature and had suffered a brain injury from the lack of oxygen, the lawsuit states. She was pronounced brain dead and died two days later.

The suit alleges the YMCA failed to provide a safe environment also by failing to maintain a safe whirlpool temperature and timely initiate a rescue for [Deceased]. The surviving family of [Deceased] seeks an unspecified amount of damages to cover medical and funeral expenses and compensation for suffering and other unspecified damages.

City attorneys [Names], representing [Deceased]'s family, have requested a jury trial. No court date was set as of Monday.


What we do know:

  • Of the specifics of this incident – virtually nothing
  • About Spas and hot tubs in general…
    • The primary hazard from spas and hot tubs is the same as that from pools – drowning
    • Since 1990, the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) has reports of more than 800 deaths in spas and hot tubs – about one-fifth of those were children under age five
    • Since 1990, CPSC has reports of 43 incidents (including 12 deaths) in which people's hair was sucked into the suction fitting of a spa, hot tub, or whirlpool, causing the victim's head to be held under water
    • National standards (ANSI – American National Standards Institute) set 104oF as the maximum suggested temperature for a public spa
    • Most state statutes do not mandate the lifeguarding of spas or hot tubs

What we don’t know:

  • The location of this spa – was it close to the pool or in some isolated area? Presumably it was neither on the pool deck (as no comment is made regarding defective lifeguarding) nor in a locker room (as both genders were concurrently using the spa)
  • Whether the spa was being regularly monitored by the Y, and if so, how frequently
  • The temperature of the water in the spa, and whether patrons had access to the temperature controls
  • What emergency protocols and technology the YMCA had in place at the time of the incident
  • The extent and vigor of the water exercises done by the deceased and her husband, and the degree of fatigue either were experiencing
  • Quantitatively, the actual duration of the “few minutes” spent in the spa by the husband, or the amount of time after that by the deceased
  • The prior medical and physical condition of the deceased

What we must remember:

  • Drownings can occur in your spa
  • Spas should be supervised…
    • By direct lifeguard scanning if on the pool deck
    • By frequent, regular monitoring if off the pool deck
  • Spas should not be accessible to children unless there is constant adult supervision; young children should not use spas without prior consultation with a physician
  • Spas that are not on the pool deck should be regularly monitored and, if possible, should be kept locked when not in use – unlocking, or releasing a key to unlock, notifies the staff that the whirlpool is in use and must be monitored
  • Heating controls should have a fail-safe mechanism that limits water temperature – preferably those controls should be inaccessible to the public, but in any case the maximum temperature should be 104oF
  • A clock and a thermometer that is accurate to + 1oF should be accessible to viewing by users while they are in the spa so that they can monitor their time and limit their stay to be within their doctors’ recommendations
  • The spa should have dual drains and appropriate drain covers as required by the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.
  • The spa should have an easily accessible and readily locatable electrical shut-off switch for the pump so it can be turned off in an emergency
  • Each spa that is not directly monitored by a lifeguard should have an emergency activation button so that individuals can easily summon help – while it should not be reachable from within the spa, it should be close and readily identified
  • Appropriate spa signage should be posted – please consult local and state ordinances as well as our Aquatics Guidelines – Spa Safety
  • Each spa should be checked annually by a professional to ensure that it is in good safe working condition and that drain covers are in place and not cracked or missing. Of course, regular monitoring of these things should be done by your staff throughout the year
  • Any new spa should be located on a pool deck
    • It should be within the normal scan range of a lifeguard (i.e., preferably 180 degrees)
    • It should never be in a separate room off the pool deck, or around a corner, or in any other way obscured from the active lifeguard’s vision
  • Please also see the following related releases

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about YMCA risk management issues.

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