Near Drowning at Newport Coast Marriott Pool Prompts Lawsuit

A Utah family’s vacation at Newport Beach’s popular, upscale Marriott Coast Villas Resort has resulted in a pending legal confrontation inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse.

Minutes before lunchtime on a sunny, warm Nov. 19, 2016, the Johnsons enjoyed the Pacific Ocean-view resort’s pool and spa area when disaster struck during their Thanksgiving trip to California.

Avery Johnson, 11, became trapped underwater after her hair somehow got stuck in the spa’s drain and, despite frantic attempts, was unable to free herself and rise to the surface for air.

Avery’s younger brother witnessed the scene before alerting his parents who were resting on nearby lounge chairs.

Meanwhile, another guest at the resort dove in the spa and urgently worked to free Avery’s hair but the situation appeared dire.

Having spent about two minutes underwater without oxygen, Avery’s body emerged motionless and blue.

Her parents screamed in horror. “For some amount of time, Avery appeared to be dead as her entire family looked on helplessly,” a federal lawsuit against Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corporation and Arizona’s Paramount Pool and Spa Systems, which manufactured the drain cover.

A bystander who knew CPR techniques worked for minutes on the girl before she began to vomit water and blood.

Thankfully she resumed breathing again, but Avery’s injuries caused hospitalization at Children’s Hospital of Orange County for three days.

Her diagnose: acute hypoxic respiratory failure, near drowning, hypothermia and scalp hematoma.  

The Johnson’s seven-count lawsuit, which includes negligence and product liability claims, now sits with U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna.

Lawyers for Marriott responded to the complaint by alleging the Johnsons have not “been injured or damaged in any way or amount or at all.”

Who does Marriott blame?

Their answer: The parents, who “were careless and negligent” in their “supervision” of their daughter, according to the company’s legal filing on June 13.

“The injuries, loss or damage, if any, of plaintiffs were and are the result of an open, obvious and apparent danger which was known to and recognized by plaintiffs who nevertheless knowingly, willingly, intentionally and voluntarily exposed herself to said danger and assumed the risk of accident, injury and damage,” Robert B. Ryder and Jason D. Hunter, attorneys for Marriott, advised the judge.

On June 15, Selna ordered the parties to participate in pre-trial mediation efforts.

R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.

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