Mo. lawmakers pass water park insurance legislation

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 | 2:19 p.m. CDT; updated 11:19 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — In response to the drowning of a Joplin boy while on a field trip to a swimming pool, Missouri lawmakers voted Tuesday to mandate that privately owned, for-profit swimming pools carry liability insurance.

Six-year-old Ethan Cory drowned in July while at the Swimmin’ Hole. State rules already require city pools, hotel pools and water parks in a theme park to have insurance. But pools such as the Swimmin’ Hole that are privately owned and operating outside of the city aren’t covered by that requirement.

The legislation requires private, for-profit water parks to have at least $1 million worth of liability insurance in case a customer dies or is injured. Pool operators would need to register with the state and prove they have liability insurance.

It would apply to pools that charge admission and have a capacity of up to 500 people with a water depth of more than 2 feet. Those who operate without insurance could face fines of $250 a day, up to a total of $10,000. Those who intentionally violate the law also could be charged with a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to a year in jail.

The legislation passed the Senate 27-6 Tuesday and had already cleared the House. It now goes to Gov. Matt Blunt and would take effect immediately upon his signature.

Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, described the drowning as a tragedy. He said the goal behind the insurance requirement is to force private pools to have enough lifeguards and take other safety measures. Nodler said that would likely happen if a for-profit pool is going to qualify for insurance coverage.

After Ethan drowned, his parents — John and Lauren Cory — filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the water park’s owners and the Boys and Girls Club of Joplin, which was supervising the children on the field trip.

Court records filed in the lawsuit indicated that James and Diane Burt, who own the Swimmin’ Hole, didn’t have liability insurance for the pool.

James Burt told The Joplin Globe last year that he was being singled out by the Corys and their attorney and that the legislation was aimed at driving him out of business. He said liability insurance would cost him $72,000 a year and that he couldn’t afford it.

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