Trial begins for Washington Twp. couple sued by friend paralyzed in swimming pool accident

Lawyers for a Vandergrift man who suffered a broken neck and spinal cord injuries in a swimming pool accident at a friend’s Washington Township home in 2013 on Monday asked a Westmoreland County jury to award him more than $9 million in damages.

Jurors will spend the next week hearing evidence in a lawsuit filed by Michael Fraser, who claims his friend’s parents were negligent when they allowed of group of 21-year-old men to horseplay with a large raft in their family pool before a holiday party.

“The evidence will show that if that raft was not in the pool, none of this would have happened,” said Fraser’s lawyer Mike Calder.

Calder said Fraser’s injuries left him paralyzed from the waist down and that he requires around-the-clock care provided by his brother and his parents. According to the lawsuit, Fraser, who has since graduated college and works as an actuary, is seeking up to $8.9 million to cover past and future medical expenses and care. He is also seeking other unspecified monetary damages in the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Fraser was injured when he jumped off a diving board and onto an inflatable 5-foot raft at the home of Robert and Laura O’Black. Lawyers claim Fraser was catapulted off the raft — designed to be towed behind a boat — and hit his head on the bottom of the pool.

The lawsuit contends the O’Blacks improperly allowed the raft in the pool and did not supervise their guests, including Fraser. A warning label on the raft advises against it being used for diving, according to Fraser’s lawsuit.

“The O’Black’s did not act responsibly. There were no safety rules for their pool and having no rules was careless,” Calder told jurors. “That raft was a recipe for disaster and should not have been in the pool that day.”

In his opening statement, Robert Loch, lawyer for the O’Blacks, told jurors Fraser, a longtime friend and visitor, was aware of the pool rules and that it was his own actions that led to his injury.

“The O’Blacks were not negligent and did not cause this situation. What happened to Mike is a tragedy,” Loch said. “They (The O’Black’s) didn’t run a Wild West show at their house and they are sorry it happened.”

Testimony in the trial will begin on Tuesday.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, rcholodofsky@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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Mike Hunter

Mike is the owner of the local pool shop. He's been in the business for over 20 years and knows everything there is to know about pools. He's always happy to help his customers with whatever they need, whether it's advice on pool maintenance or choosing the right chemicals. He's also a bit of a pool expert, and is always happy to share his knowledge with anyone who's interested.

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