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Hot tub drowning prompts safety alert.

People who use spas and hot tubs to relax and rejuvenate should be aware of hazards that can lead to drownings, according to a recent warning by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

The agency cautioned spa and hot tub users to take steps to avoid injuries and deaths that occur when body parts become trapped or hair becomes entangled in drains. Since 1980, the CPSC has received reports of 18 incidents of body part entrapment, including 5 deaths. The agency also knows of 49 incidents of hair entanglement since 1978, thirteen of them fatal, the statement said.

The warning was prompted by the death in May of a New Jersey teenager, who drowned when her body was sucked against a drain at the bottom of a hot tub and w as held underwater. State health officials investigating the death said that five adults working together were unable to free the girl, whose thigh or buttocks formed a vacuum seal against a drain with a broken cover. (Bruce Frankel, Hot Tub's Broken Grate Cited in Teen's Death, USA Today, May 29,1996, at 7A.)

"This is a serious hazard that has been known for a long time, but it hasn't been recognized by ordinary folks," said Gilbert Adams Jr., an attorney in Beaumont, Texas. Adams represented a couple in a successful lawsuit after their four-year-old son drowned in a similar incident in 1991.

According to the CPSC, pipes in a spa or swimming pool draw water through a drain and back to a pump. The suction increases substantially when the drain is blocked, making it difficult to extract a trapped body part. In a few cases, children who were sitting on improperly covered drains in wading pools have been disemboweled.

Current safety standards developed by the National Spa and Pool Institute and endorsed by the American National Standards Institute call for spas to have at least two drains to reduce the amount of suction at each one.

The CPSC urges spa owners to regularly have a professional verify that drain covers are not cracked or missing. Investigators in the New Jersey drowning say a broken drain cover was at least partly to blame for the teenager's death. The CPSC also recommends that owners know the location of the pump's power switch so they can turn off the suction in an emergency.

In some cases, entrapment injuries have led to litigation. Attorney Gale Fisher of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, represented a five-year-old boy who lost part of his large intestine when he became trapped against the drain of a municipal wading pool. The boy's family sued the manufacturer of the drain cover for defective design, contending that the drain's four plastic legs did not provide enough support to prevent the cover from breaking when people stepped on it.

The family also sued the manufacturer of the pool's pump, which was not equipped with a switch that would automatically shut off the pump when a drain became blocked. The switch was sold as an option. "That's like Ford Motor Co. saying, `For $20,000 you can get this car, and for $20,300 you can get one with brakes,'" Fisher said. The case was settled. (Shubeck v. Swimquip, Inc., No. 86-4093 (D.S.D. Nov. 3, 1989).)

In the Texas case, which also ended in settlement, Adams sued the pump manufacturer and the original spa installer, among others. The makers of the spa and drain covers were unknown. ( Brodnax v. Watts Pool Co., No. B-146,491 (Tex., Jefferson County 60th Jud. Dist. Ct. Oct. 1995).)
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Author:Shoop, Julie Gannon
Date:Aug 1, 1996
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