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Six months after winning a $100 million judgment for a child who suffered irreversible brain damage in a pool accident, the same South Florida plaintiff’s attorney has done it again. He won a $104 million verdict in another pool accident-related case last week. The jury in the most recent case, which only deliberated for 1 1/2 hours before reaching its verdict, hasn’t yet considered punitive damages. In both cases, the juries were shown videos that depicted typical days in the lives of the plaintiffs. On June 17, 2000, Lorenzo Peterson, 15, watched his friend swim to the bottom of a pool, slide an unattached drain cover away and then slide it back, according to plaintiff’s attorney Michael Haggard of Coral Gables, Fla.’s Haggard, Parks, Haggard & Bologna. Perhaps thinking his friend had hidden something inside, Peterson then swam down, slid the cover aside and stuck his arm inside the drain. At least seven people tried to free him to no avail. It was 12 minutes before police broke down the door to the pool equipment room and turned off the power to the drain pump. Those 12 minutes left Peterson, now 18, irreversibly brain-damaged. The suit against the pump’s manufacture is based on theories of strict liability and negligence. The suit alleges that defects in the drain’s design were known to the company and that it had failed to install an automatic safety shut-off mechanism. Peterson v. Sta-Rite Industries, No. 01-20887 CA 15 (Miami-Dade Co., Fla., Cir. Ct.). The jury awarded $32.4 million for past and future medical expenses and $72 million for pain and suffering, and will consider punitive damages in a month or so. Peterson will require 24-hour nursing care for the rest of his life. Claims against the apartment complex and the company that maintained its pool were settled for $7 million about two years ago. That enabled Peterson’s family to buy a house and adapt a van for his needs, Haggard said. Peterson has been raised by his grandmother since he was 2 years old. Florida law does not permit claims for a grandparent’s loss of consortium or for negligent infliction of emotional distress, so she was not entitled to recover for the damages she suffered. In reviewing television news documentaries about pool accidents, Haggard said he discovered a firefighter and an engineer who had so worried about drain-pump dangers — the 300 to 400 pounds of pull — that they had independently devised a safety mechanism that would automatically shut off the pump when it detected that it was pulling more than it should. Witnesses who Haggard called to testify had offered the safety devices for free to pool pump manufactures, including the defendant. No manufacturer has yet installed such a device, he noted. In the punitive damages phase, Haggard will try to make the case that the defendant acted, or failed to act, in conscious disregard for human life. He will assert that Sta-Rite was aware of 20 prior suction-entrapment incidents caused by either its pumps or drain covers, which are designed to be screwed down, but often become loose. He will also introduce evidence of Sta-Rite’s net worth. In the liability phase, Haggard showed a 14-minute day-in-the-life video featuring Peterson. In a tactical move, it was shown at 4 p.m. on a Friday, at the end of the first week of the two-week trial. “You always want to send the jury home with something powerful to spend the weekend thinking about,” Haggard said. “Lorenzo can smile, tries to pucker his lips to give grandma a kiss, but he can’t talk. He’s aware, but trapped inside his body and he can’t do anything about it.” HEARING A PIN DROP Defense counsel, Haggard said, objected to the audio portion of the tape because, for example, sounds such as the suctioning out of Peterson’s lungs could be heard. Haggard thinks that worked to Peterson’s advantage. “You could have heard a pin drop,” he said. The defendant’s attorney, Joel Adler of Marlow, Connell, Valerius, Abrams, Adler & Newman in Coral Gables, did not return calls seeking comment. In February 2003, Haggard won a $100 million judgment against an apartment complex for not safeguarding a pool area, which had a broken gate that residents had complained to management about. Hinton v. 2331 Adams Street Corp., No. 01-012933 (Broward Co., Fla. Cir. Ct.). In that case, a 2-year-old slid down a kiddie-slide into six-foot-deep water and suffered severe brain damage. Haggard and his firm have several other drowning and near-drowning cases in the hopper.

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