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January 27, 2014

Court Rules Florida Law to Apply in a Sandal's Resort Hot Tub Suction Entrapment Death Case


Suction Entrapment Death Law Firm.jpgThe resort injury lawyers of Brais Brais Rusak & Cerda-Collazo were successful in convincing a Federal court to apply Florida law to a death that occurred in the Bahamas. The case of John Van Hoy, Jr. is heartbreaking. John was on vacation with his fiancée Nicole at the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort located Nassau. During his stay, he decided to refresh himself in one of the resort's hot tubs. As he went under to wet his hair, he became entrapped on the bottom suction drain. Despite the efforts of many people, including other guests at the Sandals' resort, John remained stuck on the bottom of the hot tub until he drowned. John died that night leaving behind two sons, his mother, father, siblings and Nicole. His death occurred because the hot tub was outfitted by a 12" x 12" flat drain cover, the motor / pump assembly were not equipped with a vacuum release system, there were no emergency shut off switches located around the hot tub and it is believed the pump room was locked delaying the shut off of the motor.

Brais Brais Rusak & Cerda-Collazo were hired to represent John's estate and family. The law firm filed a wrongful death action in Miami, Florida against multiple defendants including: (1) Sandals; (2) the drain cover and pump manufacturer Hayward; (3) the motor manufacturer A.O. Smith as well as the component part distributors Hospitality Purveyors and SCP Distributors. In an effort to significantly reduce the amount of any awardable damages to the Van Hoys, Sandals sought application of Bahamian law to the lawsuit. Under Bahamian law, saviors cannot seek damages for emotion pain and suffer for the death of their loved one and the estate cannot claim damages for any pre-death pain and suffering. As a result, the application of Bahamian law would reduce the Van Hoy's claim to the amount of the wages John would likely earn in his lifetime and burial expenses. The issue was taken up by the Court in a pretrial motion. Brais Brais Rusak & Cerda-Collazo argued the United States, particularly Missouri and Florida, has a more significant relation to the case than the Bahamas and United States law should apply. The Court agreed with our legal analysis and issued an order finding both Florida law will apply to this case.

This was Brais Brais Rusak & Cerda-Collazo's second major victory in this case. Last year Sandals and other defendants attempted to dismiss the case in its entirety requesting the case to be tried in the Bahamas. This motion was denied and the case was allowed to proceed in Florida.

March 27, 2013

Judge Rules Sandals Resorts & Pool Component Manufacturers Must Stand Trial in Miami, Florida for an Entrapment Drowning Death In Caribbean


Resort and vacation injury lawyers Keith S. Brais and Richard D. Rusak of Brais Brais Rusak & Cerda-Collazo recently won a significant victory in Miami Federal Court in a lawsuit involving the December 28, 2010 hot tub entrapment drowning death of John Van Hoy, Jr., father of two adopted children. See, attached Order dated March 22, 2013 and photo to right.

Vacationers Beware - When You Vacation in the Caribbean, Sandals Resorts Will Argue You No Longer Have A Right to a Jury Trial in the United States


Sandals Resorts heavily advertises in the United States. Historically Sandals Resorts has earned tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars from U.S. vacationers lured to its Caribbean resorts. Sandals Resorts and its sister company Beaches have their sales and marketing agent, Unique Vacations, Inc., a mere stone's throw from the Miami International Airport. See, photo below:

And finally, Sandals Resorts when it's to its benefit sues in the United States at the drop of a hat. Despite all of this and more, if you are seriously injured or worse die at a Sandals Resort, Sandals will argue: (a) it ought not be sued in the United States, (b) your U.S. lawsuit should be dismissed and (c) that your lawsuit must be refiled in the Caribbean Island where the accident occurred under antiquated and much less plaintiff friendly laws all in an effort to escape or greatly limit liability. Gordon "Butch" Steward, founder Sandals Resorts, is reportedly a millionaire hundreds of times over, if not a billionaire. It's clear; however, from how he treats his patrons after an ill fated vacation that he aims to keep his money even if two children, not to mention other family members, are left with nothing.

Assertions of Van Hoy Federal Complaint

Court papers filed in Miami, Florida allege John Van Hoy, Jr. was using a hot tub at the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort in Nassau, Bahamas, where he was vacationing with his fiancée Nicole Cleaveland. At some point, John became trapped underwater about his lower back a consequence of which he could not surface. The technical term is "entrapment". Entrapment results in suction or hold-down forces almost resulting from one or a combination of improperly designed pools/hot tubs, electric motors, pumps, suction outlet drain sumps, suction outlet drain covers and/or filters all alleged to be unsafe and defective in the Van Hoy Complaint. These types of enormous hold down suction forces are not uncommon, particularly with single suction outlet drains and have resulted in countless and completely preventable serious personal injuries, deaths and eviscerations.

See:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Srqub7Yv56c
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Je293ebR5Bg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eg9z3htVwJo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrMUth6ZVNQ&feature=relmfu
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8zH2uwOLrc&feature=relmfu
http://www.cpsc.gov/library/foia/foia11/os/entrap11.pdf
http://www.poolspanews.com/2009/102/102safety.html

Nicole, realizing John had not surfaced, jumped into the hot tub and tried free John from the suction outlet drain at the bottom of the hot tub or minimally to raise his head above the waterline. The suction force was so great; Nicole was unable to free John. Nicole began to scream for help. Sandals employees, hearing the screams, all but ignored Nicole; some even walked away. Guests staying at the resort, however, reacted quickly and in an effort to save John's life jumped into the hot tub and began pulling and lifting on John's body. In total somewhere between six and eight guests, all pulling on his body, couldn't free John from the entrapment hold-down forces until it was too late. After John was finally freed many of these same guests and others, including a doctor from Illinois, began efforts to resuscitate John for the lengthy period of time it took for Island ambulance personnel to appear.

Harrowing Video


A guest on a balcony over looking the hot tub took a harrowing video of the event. In the video that lasts approximately 45 minutes, a Sandals' employee can be seen only momentarily performing CPR and later the same or different Sandals employee is seen lifting John's legs while the guests performed the bulk of the resuscitation efforts. Most shocking, Sandals employees are seen folding towels just feet from the on going resuscitation efforts. Most sadly, John died that night leaving his mother Myrna, father John, Sr., two sisters, one brother, fiancée Nicole, and sons Tyler & Landon.

Sandals Resorts' & Pool Component Manufacturers' Attempt to Avoid Trial in the United States


Sandals spends untold money advertising and soliciting Americans to come to its resorts. Sandals CEO Gordon "Butch" Stewart and President Adam Stewart maintain offices in Miami, Florida. The pool component manufacturers: Hayward Industries, Inc., A.O. Smith Corp., Pentair Water Pool and Spa, Inc., and Sta-Rite Industries, LLC, are all U.S. manufacturers. Nonetheless, defendants argued that it would be inconvenient to stand trial in Federal Court in Miami, Florida. Additionally the defendants argued the case ought to be moved to the Bahamas. It is assumed the real reason Sandals and the pool component manufacturers raised these arguments had nothing to do with inconvenience and everything to do with avoiding a United States jury deciding a wrongful death case of an American citizen.

In an impressive 28 page order, a Miami Federal Court held that Sandals (as well as the hot tub's pump assembly manufacturers / suppliers) failed to make a convincing argument that having the wrongful death case heard in Miami (which is less than an hour's flight from the Bahamas) would be materially unjust to any of the Defendants.

Suing Sandals in the United States


This case is very significant as it apparently opens to doors to lawsuits against Sandals by United States citizens in American courts. This case will be used for evermore as precedent that American Courts should safe guard Americans while vacationing outside the United States.

The resort and vacation lawyers at Brais Brais Rusak & Cerda-Collazo continue to act as safety advocates for U.S. citizens traveling to resort destinations outside the United States. Any persons with information regarding John Van Hoy, Jr.'s death are urged to contact the firm.

May 24, 2011

Estate of John Van-Hoy, Jr. (Deceased Dec. 28, 2010) vs. Sandals Resorts et. al. Press Release


Estate of John Van-Hoy, Jr., et. al. v. Sandals Resorts International, Ltd., Unique Vacations, Inc., Hayward Industries, Inc., A.O. Smith Corp., Pentair Water Pool & Spa, Inc. & Sta-Rite Industries, LLC.


John Van Hoy v. Sandals Hot Tub Drowing.jpg

While enjoying a once in a lifetime trip with his fiancée, Nicole Cleaveland, John Van-Hoy, Jr., drowned when he became entrapped in a spa pool at the Sandals' Royal Bahamian Resort in Nassau, Bahamas. On December 28, 2010, at the end of the day, John was in approximately 3 ½ feet of water in a small circular hot tub / spa at the Resort, while Nicole relaxed nearby. John submerged his body under the warm waters, but never came up. As it turns out, his body had been "sucked" onto the single suction outlet drain at the bottom of the hot tub.

Although he was 33 years old, a former all-state baseball player, in excellent shape, and could bench press over 300 pounds, John could not free himself. Nicole, realizing something was horribly wrong when John did not re-surface, tried unsuccessfully to free John from the suction forces generated by the spa's pump and water circulation systems. In response to Nicole's screams for help, five or more heroic guests jumped into the hot tub but collectively also could not free John from the suction outlet drain at the bottom of the spa. Complicating matters, experts who have visited the Resort concluded, amongst other things, that there was no nearby emergency shut-off switch to turn off the spa's suction pump in time to save John's life. Ultimately, Nicole watched her fiancée die before her eyes. John left behind two boys, ages 15 and 5, his fiancée, two sisters, a brother and his parents.

On May 12, 2011, John's family filed a complaint naming, amongst others, Sandals Resorts International, LTD ("Sandals"), which operates under various trade names in excess of 16 high-end resorts throughout the Atlantic and Caribbean, including the Royal Bahamian. The family alleges Sandals knew or should have known of the danger of suction entrapment and that Sandals should have taken steps to ensure that the spa was safe. They also claim that Sandals should have implemented safety procedures and trained its staff to better respond to this type of emergency. The family also claims the component parts making-up the spa's water circulation system were unreasonably dangerous and/or that these manufacturers violated safety standards, did not adhere to widely recognized industry practices and/or failed to adequately warn of the dangers posed by intense suction. The pool system component manufacturers include: Hayward Industries, Inc., A.O. Smith Corp., Pentair Water Pool & Spa, Inc. & Sta-Rite Industries, LLC.

Many children and even adults have been seriously injured or lost their lives due to suction entrapment. An article by Pool Spa News states, "Between January 1985 and March 2002, there were 147 confirmed, recorded suction entrapment incidences, according to Consumer Protection Safety Commission ("CPSC") records", 36 of which resulted in death. In a more recent memorandum, the CPSC reports there were 94 cases of suction entrapment from 1999 through 2009.

A few weeks before leaving for their planned romantic get-a-way at the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort, John was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from the UAW at the SUV Chassis Department of the Ford Plant in Kansas City, Missouri. The Certificate was in recognition of John saving a co-worker, Richard Jones, from serious injury and perhaps even death. The Certificate reads:

The leadership at the Kansas City Assembly Plant would like to thank you for your efforts and the assistance you gave your co-worker Mr. Jones on 11/19/2010 in the tire shop. By hearing your co-worker's call for assistance and responding, freeing him from between the tire line and tires you have set the example of being responsible for your brother's safety. The SUV Chassis Department would like to thank you. Mr. Van-Hoy you are greatly appreciated.

The family has engaged Brais & Associates in Miami to represent their interests. Within days of John Van-Hoy's death, Keith Brais, one of the attorneys for the family, posted a blog generally describing the incident and requesting that witnesses come forward. Shortly thereafter, Brais notified Sandals of its obligation to preserve all evidence and that a lawsuit would be filed given information that had been developed by the attorneys. In apparent response, Sandals chose to sue Mr. Brais personally, and his law firm, seeking $180 million for alleged damage to its reputation. Sandals' complaint was filed April 19th, 2011.

Mr. Brais' counsel, Robert Klein of Klein, Glasser, Park, Lowe and Pelstring in Miami has expressed the opinion that the suit by Sandals represents an, "unfortunate and ill advised preemptive claim", in an attempt to seize the initiative and to moderate the negative publicity that would undoubtedly be caused by the imminent filing of the wrongful death claim, once the horrific allegations surrounding the death of John Van-Hoy were brought to light. Klein has stated that he believes the suit is frivolous; particularly given years of adverse and often gruesome publicity about spa and pool suction outlet drain related death and injury claims, and the actual facts surrounding the loss of John Van-Hoy's life. For their part, the family's attorneys are undeterred by the Sandals' suit.

According to Keith Brais, the family's attorneys have located witnesses and additional information which he believes will corroborate the allegations in the wrongful death complaint and prove that Mr. Van-Hoy's death was 100% needless and preventable. In this regard, investigations have uncovered the existence of video depicting these tragic events. The video is approximately 45 minutes in length and is being held by attorneys representing the Van-Hoy family. For the time being, the family has asked that the video not be shared with the public in view of its graphic nature and highly emotional content. The video was taken from a balcony overlooking the Sandals hot tub / spa in which John lost his life.

Compounding matters for the Van-Hoy family, John's beloved grandfather passed away on April 27th, 2011. The family has asked that their privacy be respected and for the present time will not be providing any interviews of any kind to the media. The family has asked that all inquiries be directed to Keith Brais with Brais & Associates in Miami, Florida. Brais expressed hope "that John's legacy will be embodied by renewed efforts by all aquatic operators, particularly resort chains, to implement the multiple layers of protection consistent with pool industry standards and practices to prevent future suction entrapments. In particular, we hope Sandals will direct its efforts towards making their resorts safer."

We continue to request any witness to this tragic event contact the firm.