The parents of a 3-year-old boy who drowned after he entered an apartment complex pool through an unlocked gate has settled a lawsuit against the complex for $6 million, the family’s attorneys report.
On May 18, 2018, the toddler was playing on a tennis court with his two young cousins at the apartment complex in Hanahan in Berkeley County while his aunt and grandmother were watching them, said David Yarborough of Yarborough Applegate of Charleston, who represented the boy’s family with Christopher Bryant of the same firm and Christopher McCool of Joye Law Firm in Charleston, in negotiating the confidential settlement.
The children wandered out of view, and moments later, the boy’s cousins ran up to a man who was grilling out and told him their cousin fell into the pool and needed help. The man jumped over the wall in front of the pool, pulled the boy out of the water and began performing CPR. A police officer arrived first on the scene, followed by paramedics. They tried to revive the boy, but it was too late, Yarborough said.
“He lived on life support for a week,” he said. “He never regained consciousness. The mom and dad loved the little boy very much, and were very involved in his life. They were at his side at the hospital until the moment they had to discontinue life support. He was ultimately able to donate all of his organs to help other children. It was just an awful set of circumstances”
The pool was surrounded by a brick wall and with its ornamental open spaces between the bricks, it was more akin to a climbing wall than a barrier, Yarborough said. Maintenance personnel used a pump house gate to access the pool. It was usually was padlocked; there was conflicting testimony on whether the gate was locked when the child drowned.
However, there was no dispute that it wasn’t equipped with a self-closing or self-latching mechanism, which South Carolina law requires since the pool is considered public.
There should have been a commercial-grade cover over the pool since it had been closed for more than six months prior to the incident, Yarborough said. The complex also did not have a Certified Pool Operator at the time of the drowning.
The owners of the complex claimed that children climbed over the fence to enter the pool area and that the fence and gates complied with state regulations and industry standards, Yarborough said.
A maintenance employee and property manager said they opened the gate the evening the boy drowned only to let the rescue personnel into the pool area to try to revive the boy and that it had been locked at all times before the incident.
“The crazy thing was the lies that the apartment complex told,” Yarborough said. “They orchestrated testimony that they had unlocked the gate after the police have arrived, and the first policeman on the scene said he went through an open gate, and didn’t see anyone else around that could have opened it.”
The defense also claimed that the grandmother and aunt were inside an apartment at the time of the drowning and never should have left the 3-year-old out of sight with his 4-year-old cousin. It was later determined that the 4-year-old likely pushed his younger cousin into the pool, Yarborough said.
Police found that the aunt and grandmother were not at fault.
“There was a great amount of grief and everyone involved felt guilty,” Yarborough said of the family. “But the fact of the matter is, had the pool been guarded like it was required to be by law, and had they followed safety regulations, this never would have happened.”
The family is very close, the attorneys said. The boy’s mother was at work and she, her mother and her sister looked after the children while the others were at work.
“No one should have to experience what this family has experienced and will continue to experience,” McCool said. “We are talking about parents grieving the passing of their absolutely wonderful child. There is no adequate compensation for such a situation. There simply isn’t. But from a legal standpoint, we were absolutely committed to finding the truth and giving our clients well researched and thought-out advice. This was a case where the defendant took no responsibility, blamed everyone else under the sun, and offered $100,000 at mediation.”
Follow Bill Cresenzo on Twitter @bcresenzosclw
SETTLEMENT REPORT – PREMISES LIABILITY
Injuries alleged: Death due to drowning
Case name: Confidential
Court: U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina
Date of settlement: July 15
Highest offer: $100,000
Attorney for plaintiff: David Yarborough and Christopher Bryant of Yarborough Applegate Law Firm in Charleston and Christopher McCool of Joye Law Firm in Charleston
Attorneys for defendant: Withheld