A state lawmaker is proposing legislation that would impose new regulations on for-profit private water parks, including the need for at least $1 million in liability insurance.
The move comes after a Joplin boy drowned this summer at a local water park not covered by state regulations.
Lauren Cory, whose 6-year-old son, Ethan, drowned on a field trip to the Swimmin’ Hole on July 17, said she hoped legislators passed the bill quickly.
“We know it’s a long process, but there’s absolutely no reason not to change it,” Cory said. “All this is going to do is protect children.”
House Bill 1341, nicknamed “Ethan’s Law,” would require the owner of a for-profit, privately owned swimming pool to keep $1 million or more of insurance in the event of the death or injury of a patron.
State Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, whose district includes the Swimmin’ Hole, is sponsoring the legislation. She called Ethan’s death “a very tragic incident” and said the bill will be her priority when the Legislature convenes on Jan. 9.
“I’d like to get it assigned immediately,” Ruestman said. “We should see action on it as early as February.”
Ruestman said that by requiring the insurance, the bill would hopefully get insurance companies underwriting the policies to make sure the parks remain safe.
“This is the best way to get legislation through that doesn’t open it up to every public and private facility in the state,” she said.
The bill also includes a provision imposing fines of $100 a day or a day in jail for violating the statute.
City pools, hotel pools and water parks contained in larger theme parks already are already covered by state regulations. But pools that are privately owned and operating outside of the city, such as the Swimmin’ Hole, are excepted from those rules.
Ethan’s parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the water park’s owners, James and Diane Burt, and the Boys and Girls Club of Joplin, which was supervising the children on the field trip.
Court records filed in the lawsuit indicated the Burts didn’t have liability insurance for the Swimmin’ Hole.
James Burt told The Joplin Globe he was being singled out by the Corys and their attorney and that the bill was aimed at driving him out of business. He said liability insurance would cost him $72,000 a year and he couldn’t afford it.
Asked if he thought it would be beneficial for a businessman like him to carry liability insurance, he said, “Not really. I don’t have anything more to say.”
Ruestman said she felt having liability insurance would be attractive to business owners, although she acknowledged there were few parks like the Swimmin’ Hole in Missouri.
“I think this is something that would protect both the public and the person who owns the facility,” she said. “It would cover serious incidents, but it might also cover less serious things.”
A Newton County Sheriff’s Department investigation of Ethan’s death determined that neither the club nor the water park employees provided the 34 children attending the field trip with adequate supervision.
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