Case: Lorenzo Peterson v. Sta-Rite Industries, Miami-Dade Circuit Court, 2003
Synopsis: Lorenzo Peterson, a 14-year-old boy, suffered severe brain damage after his arm became trapped in a suction pump at the bottom of a pool. Only once the pump was turned off, and after the victim had remained underwater for almost 12 minutes, were rescuers able to bring Lorenzo above the surface for emergency treatment.
Result: $104,000,000 near-drowning lawsuit settlement; $32.4 million in medical expenses & other costs + $72 million for pain & suffering.
In June of 2000, a teenaged Lorenzo Peterson was enjoying the pool with friends at a North Miami apartment complex. At some point, one of Peterson's friends swam to the bottom of the pool where the suction pump drain was. He reportedly lifted the drain cover and promptly replaced it before resurfacing.
Upon noticing this, Lorenzo's curiosity was piqued and he, too, swam down to the bottom of the pool where the suction pump inlet was. Believing his friend may have hidden something inside the drain, Lorenzo retrieved the unsecured cover and inserted his arm into the pump drain at which point he became stuck due to the pump's powerful suction.
Numerous adults on the scene were unable to pull Lorenzo away from the drain. It's no surprise they were unable to rescue Peterson, though, as court documents would later show that the Sta-Rite main drain pump could produce a force of up to 700 pounds.
Tragically, it would take a responding rescuer breaking into the mechanical room of the facility to turn off the pump, finally releasing Lorenzo. By this point, the victim had been underwater for 12 minutes.
While Peterson survived the ordeal, he never returned to his normal life and was never "himself" again. This is because the severe brain damage resulting from the incident means that the victim will require around-the-clock attention for the rest of his life. A video of Lorenzo's daily routine exhibited to the jury during litigation revealed exactly this while also providing jurors a small peak into the rest of Peterson's days.
Another major factor in achieving the record-breaking compensation in this lawsuit was the effectiveness with which the plaintiff's attorneys were able to demonstrate the pump manufacturer's negligence. Peterson's attorneys showed how Sta-Rite was aware of the risk of suction entrapment; in fact, similar incidents involving individuals becoming trapped underwater by Sta-Rite's powerful pumps had already occurred and been brought to the manufacturer's attention. It seems such concerns fell on deaf ears at the pump manufacturer and the lack of action ultimately lead to Peterson's tragic occurrence.