Orlando Sentinel – Orlando, Fla.
Mar 8, 2000
Jury Faults YMCA in Camp Pool Death
The parents of a young boy who died in a YMCA swimming pool won $1 million Tuesday from a jury that decided the group was negligent in caring for the child at its summer camp.
Kimberly and Scott Titus of Ocoee hugged, cried and clasped hands with their attorneys after a judge announced the decision in Orlando.
“They think this tells the YMCA they have to train and hire the appropriate people if they are going to be entrusted with our children,” said lawyer Mel Wright, who explained that his clients were too emotional to talk.
The YMCA of Central Florida, which ran the summer camp, is considering an appeal and may ask Circuit Judge James Hauser to reduce the award.
Eric Titus, 5, died on June 30, 1997, after he was found floating face down in the pool at the Y’s West Orange Center near Winter Garden. Complicating the case was the fact that he died of an undiagnosed heart ailment – not drowning.
But to jurors, it didn’t make a difference.
They thought the YMCA left Eric unsupervised even though workers knew he couldn’t swim. They also thought the child probably started to drown, and the panic caused his heart to fail.
Juror Frank Rivera said the group was dismayed that a YMCA member got to Eric before any lifeguard. Although left on the steps in the shallow end of the pool, witnesses said Eric was found floating in water over his head. No one could say how long the boy had been in trouble – a fact that concerned jurors.
Rivera, a photographer for The Orlando Sentinel, said jurors were perturbed that YMCA management left the safety of dozens of children to youthful camp counselors and lifeguards who weren’t sufficiently trained for emergencies.
In addition, the pool manager’s certification for cardiopulmonary resuscitation had lapsed.
“If they are going to hold camp, they need to be 100 percent sure the kids are attended properly at all times,” Rivera said.
YMCA lawyer John Bussey maintained that workers at the pool did a good job. He said children were adequately supervised, and other workers besides the pool manager were certified in first aid and CPR.
“We stand by their actions,” he told jurors during closing arguments. “We stand by the actions of the YMCA. They did react timely. They did know what they were doing.”
Eric’s parents maintained the workers delayed giving their son CPR.
Lawyer Keith Mitnik argued workers froze because they weren’t practiced in emergency drills. Eric’s parents contended that their son would have survived if given appropriate and quick care.
YMCA attorneys said CPR was given quickly, but that it would not have alleviated the boy’s heart condition and his chances of survival were slim. They said the boy could have died anywhere at any time.
A medical examiner theorized that an infection from a cold had gotten into the boy’s bloodstream, attacked the heart and caused the muscle to become inflamed – a condition called myocarditis. The changes to the heart caused an irregular beat, which rendered him unconscious.
“This was an unexpected cardiac event that befell Eric Titus in the pool,” Bussey said.
But jurors didn’t think the heart condition alone was serious enough to cause the boy’s death. Defense lawyers said the condition likely would have healed and the boy could have gone on with his life.
Mitnik accused the YMCA of running a “slipshod operation.”
“A boy is dead. All we’ve heard are excuses,” he said at the conclusion of the seven-day trial. There was “a total lack of regard to safety obligations.”