Los Angeles County swimming pools and other public pools should have signs showing the perils of diving in shallow water, says a Beverly Hills attorney who recently represented a man paralyzed in a dive at the county's Lennox pool.
"The key here is that all signs posted should show the consequences" of shallow dives, said attorney Jeffrey S. Pop. "The person has to understand the hazard that they are trying to avoid."
But Deputy County Counsel Philip Miller said existing signs adequately warn swimmers of diving hazards, and he noted that signs were not judged to be a factor in the accident that led to the recent court case.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury last month awarded Pop's client, Salvador Reyes, $738,528 in a lawsuit stemming from the 1980 accident that left Reyes, 26, paralyzed from the chest down.
Reyes, a Mexican national who lives in Los Angeles, was using the Lennox pool for the first time on Aug. 10, 1980, when he dove in at the three- to five-foot level and hit the concrete bottom.
The 12-member jury found that one or more Los Angeles County lifeguards were negligent, but made no finding as to whether the pool itself was dangerous. The jury concluded that the county bore 75% of the blame and Reyes 25%.
At the time of the accident, the pool was equipped with three deck signs reading "No Diving Shallow Water" and four others reading "walk," according to Pop and Miller. Pool rules also were posted, including one that said: "Use diving facilities at your own risk."
All of the signs and rules were in English, however, and Reyes speaks only Spanish.
Since the accident, the county's 40 pools have added new pictogram signs prohibiting diving. They are posted at three locations on the Lennox pool deck, and two more have been placed on a chain-link fence. The posted rules are now in Spanish and English and include one that forbids diving in shallow water.
More Specific Signs
Pop said more specific signs are needed. He favors a sign that shows a diver hitting the bottom of a pool and becoming wheelchair-bound. He said that shallow areas should be outlined in red, with pictograms at 15-foot intervals.
"The fact remains that water safety is not common sense, it's uncommon sense," Pop said. "It's something that people aren't taught."
Miller, the county attorney, said he advocates the use of various warning signs at county pools, but said no sign can prevent such accidents.
"You have to ask: Would a different sign prevent these accidents from occurring?" he said. "It's the nature of people to take risks and disregard warnings."
Two in 30 Years
The Reyes case represents one of only two instances of a dive at a county pool resulting in a spinal injury in the past 30 years, according to Ed Petterson, regional director of recreational services. He added that about 1 million people use the pools each year.
Miller said that at the Lennox pool, word signs had been in use for 20 years before the Reyes accident and no injuries more serious than a scrape or a bruise occurred. In an interview conducted with an interpreter, Reyes said better signs might prevent diving accidents. "I think it would be effective because it shows the man diving, and it's understandable," he said.
Pop estimated that the cost of caring for Reyes will reach $1 million during his lifetime.
Reyes, who is unmarried, can move his arms and shoulders but has no feeling below his chest. He has no control over his bladder or bowels. He can control his hands somewhat, but cannot make a fist or bend or extend his index finger.
A dishwasher before the accident, Reyes now needs help dressing, bathing, brushing his teeth and preparing food. The settlement money, which has already been paid by the county, will go toward providing for welfare and retraining, said Pop. He said Reyes might buy an apartment building.
"I don't think I'm crusading." Pop said. "The reason I've become involved in this . . . is my client, who has affected me most. Nobody told my client to dive, and no one told (other paraplegics) to dive. Had they had any idea that they could have been rendered permanently paralyzed they wouldn't have done it."