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Trade association liable for negligent standards, Washington court rules.

A trade association that voluntarily sets safety standards and fails to revise them or issue warnings as needed has a duty to act with due care, a Washington appeals court recently ruled in a case of first impression for the state. The duty is triggered after the association becomes aware of a risk posed by the standards. (Meneely v. S.R. Smith, Inc., 5 P.3d 49 (Wash. Ct. App. 2000).)

The court upheld a jury verdict that found the National Spa & Pool Institute (NSPI), a trade association that issues standards for swimming pools and equipment, 60 percent liable for injuries Shawn Meneely suffered in 1991 after he dived into a swimming pool. Meneely broke his neck when his head struck the pool's transition slope, which runs between the floor of the deep end of the pool and the beginning of the pool's shallow end. The fracture paralyzed the 16-year-old from the neck down.

Meneely sued NSPI, claiming that it negligently caused his injuries. The lawsuit alleged that while the association's safety standards permitted use of a certain jump board manufactured by S.R. Smith, Inc., with pools the size of the one Meneely dived into, NSPI knew no later than 1971 that the diving board and pool combination was dangerous.

On appeal, a unanimous three-judge panel held that "by promulgating industry-wide safety standards that pool and board manufacturers relied upon, NSPI voluntarily assumed the duty to warn Meneely and other divers of the risk posed by this type of board [and] ... pool. It failed to exercise reasonable care in performing that duty when it did not change the standard after it knew that studies showed the pool and board combination was dangerous."

Chief Judge John Schulteis, who wrote for the panel, referred to a similar Alabama Supreme Court case, King v. National Spa & Pool Institute, Inc. (570 So. 2d 612 (Ala. 1990).) The King court stated that "one who undertakes to perform a duty [that it] is not otherwise required to perform is thereafter charged with the duty of acting with due care." (Trade Association Liable for Weak Standards, Alabama Court Rules, TRIAL, Feb. 1991, at 14.)

The case is currently on appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.
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Author:Reichert, Jennifer L.
Geographic Code:1U9WA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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