The representative of 19-month-old twins who fell into a backyard swimming pool, resulting in the death of one child and severe brain damage to the other, settled a product liability suit for $2.35 million
David and Jeffrey Alexandroff apparently climbed over, or went through, a gate on a deck next to the in-ground pool and fell into the water, where they were found by their parents. A fence surrounded the pool on three sides, with a deck on the fourth side nearest the house. The deck had gates and a 36-inch high railing on the side near the pool and stairs leading down to the backyard.
Jeffrey died a week after the incident and David, who sustained serious brain damage, requires permanent nursing care, according to the plaintiff’s attorney, Robert J. Mongeluzzi.
The New Jersey Superior Court, Camden County, approved the settlement in July, Mongeluzzi said. Mongeluzzi said a trust will probably be set up for David with the largest share of the settlement. The trial judge will allocate the funds among the claimants.
Installers, Parents Sued
Alexander Lepesha, the twins’ grandfather, was named the administrator of Jeffrey’s estate and David’s guardian for the purpose of maintaining a suit on the children’s behalf.
The defendants were Niagara Pool and Filter Co., the seller and installer of the pool; Richardson Custom Cedar Fencing, the seller and installer of a fence on three sides of the pool; Pacific Industries Inc., the pool manufacturer; Bill Wahl Building & Contracting Inc., general contractor that built the deck, railings and gates; and the twins’ parents, Eugene and Linda Alexandroff.
The plaintiff alleged the parents were liable as the pool owners and operators because the fence did not comply with the local building code that required a 4-foot high fence.
He also alleged the pool manufacturer has a duty to recommend and warn that pools should be protected by multiple levels of protection including parental supervision, adequate fencing, perimeter alarms, and safety covers. Evidence showed that thousands of children are treated in emergency rooms annually for immersion accidents, including several hundred deaths, Mongeluzzi said. The plaintiff also contended the gates should have been self-latching.
The defendants argued the incident was caused solely by the lack of parental supervision.
The settlement also resolves the parents’ claims against the other defendants, Mongeluzzi said.
Niagara paid $1.4 million towards the settlement; Richardson, $300,000; Pacific Industries, $250,000; and Wahl, $100,000. The parents paid $300,000, the limit of their insurance policy.
Robert D. Billet, Pacific’s attorney, said the pool manufacturer warned in its brochures that the fence should be an adequate height. He noted that his client’s share of the settlement was relatively small, only about 10 percent of the total.
The plaintiffs expert witnesses were forensic consultant George Lawniczak of Las Vegas on aquatic safety; forensic consultant Carl Silver of Narberth, Penn., on warnings; and Beryle G. Sweet of Pittsburgh on fencing.
The defendants’ experts were psychologist Stephen Wilcox of Philadelphia on human factors and warnings; and kinesiologist Steven Langendorfer of Kent, Ohio, on aquatic safety.
The plaintiffs are represented by Mongeluzzi of Mongeluzzi & Barrett in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Pacific is represented by Billet of Billet & Connor in Philadelphia, and David S. Richman of Ginsburg, Stephan, Oringher & Richman in Los Angeles.
Niagara is represented by Lawrence T. Engriffei of the Offices of Thomas Dempster in Westmont, N.J. Richardson is represented by John R. Gercke of Gercke, Dumser & Feld in Cherry Hill, N.J. Wahl is represented by R. Barry Strosnider of Slimm & Goldberg in Westmont.
The parents’ defense attorney is Edward R. Murphy of Murphy & O’Connor in Haddonfield, N.J. Mark Gertel of Ballen & Gertel in Camden, N.J., represents the parents as plaintiffs.