O’Connor vs. City of Philadelphia

On July 18, 2013, Ja’briel O’Connor, a seven-year-old boy in a summer camp program, drowned in the Cobb’s Creek Pool. Upon entering the City Pool facility around noon, the young campers and counselors were not provided with any guidance, pool rules, or water safety instructions by the City of Philadelphia lifeguards or other City employees. Without conducting any screening swim test to determine whether Ja’briel (or any other child) could swim, this Ja’briel was allowed to enter the pool without supervision or a life-saving safety device (i.e. lifejacket). Camp counselors (Willa Master and Tressy Robinson) and several witnesses interviewed by police indicated that the lifeguards were not on their stand, were congregated together and talking to one another, and were throwing each other into the pool. Ja’briel was eventually “discovered” at the bottom of the pool by a camp counselor despite the presence of five City of Philadelphia lifeguards.

Jabriel was retrieved from the bottom of the pool and removed from the water by the counselors, not by lifeguard personnel. Only after repeated shouts by the counselors did the lifeguards respond.

Initially, CPR was being performed by a single lifeguard who provided positive-pressure-ventilation via mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing. During the resuscitation efforts by the lifeguards, camp counselor Willa Master testified that one of the lifeguards was not doing CPR correctly as Ja’briel’s head was not tilted back far enough to maintain a patent airway. A personal resuscitation mask was eventually brought to the scene and used to provide positive pressure ventilation until the one-way-valve of the mask fell off, at which time another mask had to be retrieved. A Bag-Valve-Mask Resuscitator was not available and/or was not used by the lifeguards.

Although an AED was available at this facility, it was not used by the lifeguards. In fact, the facility’s AED was not even brought to the scene by lifeguard personnel until after EMS personnel arrived on the scene (6 minutes after Ja’briel was removed from the water). Once EMS personnel connected the defibrillator to Ja’briel’s chest, he no longer had a shockable rhythm, and No Shock was advised.

EMS personnel administered Advanced Cardiac Life Support measures on the pool deck, as well as in the ambulance, prior to and en-route to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) where resuscitation efforts were continued and Ja’briel was placed on life support.

Ja’briel was diagnosed with severe anoxic brain injury and life support was ultimately withdrawn at CHOP.

Summary of Opinions

The City’s negligent and reckless approach to basic principles of swimming pool and lifeguard operations and management, and its negligent and reckless operation of a municipally-owned property, which was under its care, custody and control, created and allowed an unreasonably dangerous condition to exist that directly led to Ja’briel’s unrecognized submersion, resulting in respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, brain damage, pain and suffering, and ultimately his death. It is my opinion that these failures all caused and/or contributed to the drowning death of Ja’briel O’Connor. It is also my opinion that had the City properly cared for and safely controlled, operated, and used its swimming pool on its real property consistent with basic principles and practices of water and swimming pool safety, and as discussed more fully above, this tragedy would have been avoided and Ja’briel would not have drowned.

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