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Lifeguard electrocution case settles for $6 million

The wrongful death case of a lifeguard who died when she entered a pool that was electrified has settled for $6 million.

A high school student who was an experienced lifeguard was assigned by her employer to a neighborhood pool where she had never worked before. She arrived early to clean the pool following a storm the previous day. She jumped or dove into the pool, apparently to clear some debris, and was electrocuted. The official cause of death was listed as electrocution complicated by terminal immersion in water. She remained floating in the pool for hours until another lifeguard arrived.

The pool was electrified because of a short in the pool pump motor and improper electrical wiring that violated the National Electrical Code. Investigation showed that the ground wire leading to the breaker box, which should have shut off power once the short in the motor occurred, had deteriorated, broken and lost connectivity. That wiring should have been copper and placed in conduit, according to the Code. Instead, it was made of aluminum and was directly buried in the ground without being placed in conduit.

Plaintiffs alleged that one defendant electrical company, in making a repair to the wiring within the past few years, should have known that the aluminum wiring system, buried directly in the ground some 38 years earlier, violated the Code. The company failed to replace the wiring, in violation of the Code, leaving the broken grounding wire and improperly installed original system in place. Plaintiffs alleged that the motor shorted out, and when the breaker could not be tripped, the electricity traveled to the pool, energizing it.

Plaintiffs also sued an additional electrical company that performed work at the pool more recently, maintaining that that company incorrectly replaced a capacitor in the pump motor, using the wrong size capacitor. Plaintiffs alleged the error caused the pump to overheat and fail.

In addition, plaintiffs settled with the homeowners association and property manager. Plaintiffs alleged the association’s pool maintenance company had told the association and manager that the pool pump was a danger and needed to be replaced, but the association failed to replace the pump.

Investigation into the cause of the accident involved hiring engineering, motor and pool experts who dug up a substantial amount of electrical lines to find the source of the failure. In addition, exemplar motors were purchased and tested to demonstrate that the wrong-sized capacitor would heat the motor and make it fail more quickly.

“This was a complicated case to determine exactly what caused this tragedy,” said attorney David Kirby of Edwards Kirby, who represented the family. “It took a perfect storm of negligence from several defendants combining to cause this young girl’s death.”

Experts for the plaintiff also included an expert in biomedical engineering with specific expertise in electric shock injury and the effects of electricity on the human body. He testified that the lifeguard would have been conscious and aware of what was happening to her, but unable to move her muscles, leading to her drowning. Other experts included an accident reconstructionist; a materials science expert to analyze the deterioration of the buried wire, an engineer with experience is pool electrocutions and an economist.

The victim, age 17, was an exceptional student known for her writing ability. Her mother published a book of her writings posthumously, and the family established two writing scholarships in her name.

“She was a tremendously talented young woman, and her loss is a tragedy for the community,” said attorney Adam Neijna of the Law Offices of Adam Neijna, who also represented the family. “Rachel’s death should be a wakeup call for all of us of the importance of electrical safety in and around pools.”

Settlement Report - The exact amount paid by each of those parties that settled is confidential.

  • Settlement – Wrongful Death
  • Amount: $6 million
  • Case name: Confidential
  • Court: Confidential
  • Date of Settlement: June 2018
  • Attorneys for Plaintiffs: David F. Kirby and Bill Bystrynski of Edwards Kirby, LLP, in Raleigh and Adam Neijna of Law Offices of Adam Neijna, P.L.L.C., in Raleigh
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