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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 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 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 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'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 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.


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 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 28, 2011

Suction Entrapment Pool Drain Cover Recall Impacts Nearly a Million Pools, Spas & Hot Tubs

To avoid the potential of pool and spa suction entrapments, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled dozens of models of drain covers from eight different manufactures. This recall is expected to impact over a million pools and spas nationwide.

Pool, Hot Tub and Spa Suction Entrapment Lawyer Attorney.jpgPool and spa suction entrapments are a real danger to swimmers. According to the CPSC, from 1999 to 2010 there were 97 suction entrapments nationwide, 12 of which involved deaths. The CPSC recalled these drain covers because they were incorrectly rated to handle the flow of water which could pose a possible suction entrapment hazard. The recall is a result of a several month investigation wherein obtained over 17,000 documents from testing laboratories used by the drain manufactures.

There has been a strong federal and state government interest in pool regulation in recent years. This interest primarily stems from the 2002 suction entrapment death of 7-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker "Graeme". On June 15, 2002, Graeme went to a graduation pool party at a friend's house. Shortly after arriving, she entered a hot tub and became pinned to bottom drain. Although two adults were eventually able to pull Graeme  from the bottom, she drowned. From this tragedy, Congress passed the 2007 Virginia Graeme Baker Act. As of December 19, 2008, this law:

  1. Prohibits the manufacture, sale or distribution of suction outlets and covers in the U.S. that are not ASME/ANSI A112.19.8-2007 certified,
  2. Requires all public pools and spas, both new and existing, be equipped with certified covers on every suction outlet,
  3. Requires all new construction of public pools and spas include multiple drain outlets, and
  4. Requires existing public pools and spas with a single suction outlet, other than an unblockable outlet, to be fitted with one or more of the following intended to prevent death or injury caused by entrapment, evisceration or entanglement:
    • Safety vacuum release system (SVRS) that complies with ANSI/ASME A112.19.17 or ASTM F2387;
    • Suction limiting vent system;
    • Gravity drainage system;
    • Automatic pump shut-off;
    • Drain disablement; or
    • Equivalent system that may be approved by the CPSC.
The recent recall primarily affects kiddie pools, wading pools and inground spas. It also impacts single-drain pools that do not have an unblockable drain, gravity feed system or drain covers installed before December 2008.

The CPSC cautions owners of pools, spas and hot tubs outfitted with the recalled drain covers to stop using the products immediately. Anyone with one of the recalled drain covers should immediately contact the manufacturer to get a replacement or retrofit.

The manufacturers of the recalled drain covers are:

  • A&A Manufacturing;
  • AquaStar Pool Products;
  • Color Match Pool Fittings;
  • Custom Molded Products;
  • Hayward Pool Products;
  • Pentair Water Pool and Spa;
  • Rising Dragon USA; and
  • Waterway Plastics.