Judge adds $3.78 million to verdict in Westmoreland pool injury case

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A Westmoreland County judge has awarded $3.7 million in deferred damages to a Vandergrift man who became a quadriplegic after jumping on a raft in a friend’s swimming pool in 2013.

After a trial in March, a jury returned a $19 million verdict, a Westmoreland County record, against Washington Township pool owners Robert and Laura O’Black.

The jury determined that the O’Blacks were 70% responsible for the neck and spinal injuries sustained by then 21-year-old Michael Fraser.

The verdict included damages to pay for Fraser’s current and future medical bills, as well as for pain and suffering, embarrassment, disfigurement, and loss of life’s pleasures.

Fraser, according to trial testimony, jumped off a diving board into the O’Blacks’ swimming pool and bounced off a 5-foot inflatable rubber raft that was not designed for use in swimming pools. Witnesses said Fraser hit his head on the bottom of the pool as he went from deep to shallow water.

A warning label on the raft – saying it should not be used in swimming pools – had been covered up before use, witnesses said.

Common Pleas Judge Harry Smail Jr. fashioned the verdict to conform to the jury’s findings and reduced the initial payment to Fraser to $13.3 million.

The judge ruled this week that Fraser was entitled to an additional $3.7 million in deferred damages because the O’Blacks, through their attorneys, never attempted to settle the case before she is judged.

With the damages delayed and the verdict cast, Fraser is now owed more than $17 million.

“The voice of the jury has been confirmed,” Fraser’s attorney Michael Calder said Friday.

Attorneys for the O’Blacks did not respond to a request for comment.

The O’Blacks challenged the application of deferred damages. They had also asked Smail to overturn the verdict and order a new trial. The judge denied both requests.

Smail ruled there was no basis for a new trial, and the evidence presented during the case supported the jury’s verdict.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Rich by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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