Jury finds in favor of company in drowning

A prior settlement may have made the jury’s verdict
easier, a lawyer says.



WARREN — It took less than two hours for a Trumbull County Common Pleas Court jury to find in favor of a fence company in a lawsuit brought by the mother a 5-year-old boy who drowned in his neighbor’s swimming pool.

The verdict of the four-man, four-woman jury was returned before noon Wednesday in the courtroom of Judge Peter J. Kontos.

The jury decided in favor of All Vinyl Fences and Decks Inc. and Tina Hall of Southington, company owner when the two fences were constructed in 1997 at a Bellwood Drive home in Howland Township that has since been purchased by Michael Raggozine.

Ali Zaire, also of Bellwood, drowned May 12, 2004, after making his way through the two fences and getting in the pool.

The boy’s mother, Roxanne Preston, who had been paid $288,000 in a settlement with Raggozine’s insurance company, was seeking $1,710,173 from Hall and All Vinyl, which operates under new ownership.

Atty. Thomas J. Wilson of Youngstown, who represented All Vinyl and Hall, said the jury knew that Preston had been compensated, which made it easier for them.

The jury found that the defendants were negligent but that the negligence was not the proximate cause of the death. Civil juries do not have to identify who they believe is the proximate cause in their verdict.

During closing arguments Tuesday, Wilson told the jury that when the pool was installed in 1997, it was the responsibility of the homeowner then to get a building certificate, which wasn’t obtained.

Wilson said the evidence during testimony showed that Ali most likely was able to enter a fence that surrounded the backyard through a gate that had a broken latch.

He said the gate on the inner fence that is supposed to stop children from going into the pool had been slammed shut, thus the latch didn’t lock.

Preston’s lawyer, John C. Henck of Cleveland, argued that Hall and the fence company were liable because both fences were supposed to be 6 feet high, according to township zoning regulations. The inner fence, he said, was 4 feet high.

Wilson countered that the outer fence surrounds the entire backyard and the inner fence wasn’t required.

Henck also argued that the latches on the gates were supposed to be self-latching but were not.