Although most drowning accidents occur outdoors, many such accidents involving younger children happen indoors in places such as hotels, day care, and recreation centers. In today's post, we are sad to report yet another death involving a child and an indoor swimming pool.
Raymond Whitlock's drowning was third such accident in four years at Quality Inn and Suites West Waterpark in Knoxville
As we have stated on other pages of this website, initial news reports of any accident are often incomplete and should be seen as "preliminary" at best. With this caveat in mind, the following summary of the events related to the death of Raymond Whitlock, Jr. has been compiled from both print and broadcast news sources in the Knoxville area.
Shortly before 6:00 pm on February 16th, Knoxville (TN) emergency services personnel were summoned to the Quality Inn and Suites West Waterpark in the Knoxville suburb of Cedar Bluff in response to a report of a drowning. Upon arrival, EMS personnel were informed that the victim, later identified as 3-year-old Raymond Whitlock, Jr. had been found unresponsive in the "adult end" of the pool by hotel guests who retrieved the victim and began CPR. EMS was able to stabilize the victim's condition and he was transported to a local hospital before being transferred to the East Tennessee Children's Hospital's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Unfortunately, young Raymond had suffered a catastrophic injury and he died the following day.
Reconstructing the accident
News reports filed in the days following the accident confirmed the presence of signs posted on the "childproof" door opening into the pool area that clearly state that the area is "… for the use of hotel guests only …" The same reports also confirm the presence of signs at several poolside locations informing those present that there is "no lifeguard on duty."
In a Facebook post, the Knoxville Police Department (KPD) stated that its initial investigation had revealed that the child was in the custody of an unidentified "relative" [later identified as a "family friend"] that afternoon and that young Raymond "… was left unattended at the indoor swimming pool along with his 6-year-old brother, a 5-year-old cousin, and a 5-year-old friend." The whereabouts of that relative/friend when the accident happened was not disclosed.
Who is liable in a childhood drowning accident?
In our system of civil law, children are considered to be unable to understand that some activities or behaviors are dangerous and could lead to an injury or even death. Our legal system thus demands that places of businesses and homeowners maintain their property in a manner that does not pose a risk of injury to others, especially children. If a child, whether by trespassing or by invitation, is on a property and suffers an injury, the business or property owner may be held liable for the consequences of that injury.
According to a story published in both the print and online editions of the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Quality Inns & Suites West Waterpark has been the site of two previous downing accidents within the past four years:
An unsupervised 7-year-old, Darshawn Martez Witt, drowned in July 2017
In March 2015, 4-year-old Anderson Cooper Goldsmith drowned in the same pool
In addition to the previous drowning deaths, there was an unconfirmed report of an additional near-drowning incident from 2016 where the victim survived.
Regarding the 2017 death of Dashawn Witt, WVLT reports that this incident led to the 2018 filing of a wrongful death lawsuit against Quality Inn & Suites Waterpark, Amit A. Patel, and Riddhi Enterprises Corp.
In that lawsuit, it is alleged that the inn includes a water-themed playground for children as well as an adult swimming pool "with no separation between the two." It also states that the inn and its owners were aware that children were playing in the area without supervision and knew "or reasonably should have known...that the water-themed playground and swimming pool were unreasonably dangerous for use by children without the supervision of an adult or an on-duty lifeguard."
Aftermath of a drowning accident
In the case of Raymond Whitlock, Jr., the Quality Inn & Suites Waterpark would appear to be "off the hook" for liability due to the fact that it had clearly indicated that there was no lifeguard on duty, thus implying that guests were "assuming the risk" that an accident could happen. However, the courts of every state have long held that the presence of warning signs is not a defense against liability for one simple reason: preschool and early elementary school-age children are usually unable to read such signs, much less comprehend the dangers involved! Of greater legal significance is the role of the "relative/family friend" in this tragedy.
From the information available at this time, it appears that this individual used incredibly poor judgement in leaving four preschoolers unattended. Since his or her actions were a factor in young Raymond's death, he or she is "wide open" to a civil lawsuit if not criminal charges! As to the liability of the hotel owners, more information will be needed before we comment on that issue.
We will be closely watching future developments in this case and will post updates on this website as they become available.
Why a drowning accident lawyer should investigate your case
At The Doan Law Firm, our founding partner, Jimmy Doan, is a recognized authority on drowning accidents and their prevention. Based on his extensive knowledge of accidental drowning, and the results of a complete investigation into the causes of each accident, he has successfully represented many clients who have lost a family member to a drowning accident caused by another's negligence.
If you have lost a family member to a drowning accident, we invite you to contact The Doan Law Firm to arrange a free, no obligation, review of the facts surrounding your loss and a discussion of the legal options that may be available to you.
At our firm, your case review and initial consultation are always free and do not obligate you in any way to hiring us as your legal counsel. If you later decide to file a drowning accident lawsuit, and that you would like us to represent you in court, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a percentage of the final verdict that we will win for you.