A 6-year-old girl sustained irreparable brain damage in an unsafe hot tub in an Anaheim hotel’s water park, the girl’s attorneys told a jury tasked with deciding a lawsuit against the Howard Johnson company, while the inn’s attorney said the girl actually was a victim of complications from hand, foot, and mouth disease.
In 2008, the Howard Johnson hotel at 1380 S. Harbor Blvd. removed a pool in favor of the Castaway Cove water park, but left in the hot tub, according to the attorney for the family of Journey Hudson, who they say nearly drowned in the hot tub on Aug. 16, 2015, but was revived and sustained brain damage that shorn 57 points off the once star pupil’s IQ.
“The evidence is going to show they kept the hot tub so it could be considered renovations” instead of a completely new project, attorney Zoe Littlepage alleged in the trial Wednesday. “The park is not permitted, not approved. There are over 50 code violations. This is a company that decided to cut corners.”
The hot tub is at the end of a water slide, Littlepage said. The hotel should have erected a barricade or fence around it, “to make sure kids sliding off the water slide don’t just go straight into the hot tub,” she said, telling jurors the hot tub had been in place since 1965 and is “very old.”
“There were changes made to that hot tub in 2008 that made it even more dangerous to children,” Littlepage alleged. “It made the hot water in that hot tub even hotter.”
The changes “made it more difficult to control the temperature,” according to Littlepage, who also alleged that Howard Johnson neglected to have two attendants and only one was on the job of Journey’s emergency.
“The one pool attendant on duty that day was not watching” the hot tub, Littlepage said.
The hotel also failed to have a “rescue plan” in place, Littlepage said. The lawsuit alleges Journey sustained severe burns after being pulled out of the spa and placed on sizzling concrete.
Journey had earned money from a lemonade stand to pay for her family’s room at the hotel while they were on a trip to Disneyland, Littlepage said.
The day before she was injured, the family went to the theme park and “had a great time,” the attorney said. The next day at brunch, the family decided to enjoy the water park in the hotel, she said.
Journey, her mother, Angelique Anderson, 10-year-old stepbrother and a 5-year-old family friend went to the water park and Journey asked if she could go into the hot tub, Littlepage said. When her mom saw the water jets were not on, she assumed it was a “kiddie pool” and told her daughter it was fine to get in, the attorney said.
Children are “more susceptible to hot water,” and the hot tub at the hotel was set at 102 degrees, Littlepage said. An expert for the plaintiffs is expected to testify that the water was actually 106 to 109 degrees, the attorney said.
Journey “fainted” in the hot tub and it is unclear how long she was in the water because the video surveillance records are no longer available, Littlepage said.
Another attorney for the family, Charla Aldous, said the girl was diagnosed with hypoxia and hypothermia when she was rushed to a hospital.
A defense expert is expected to testify Journey nearly died from drowning, Aldous said.
“Hypothermia was enough to cause brain damage,” Aldous said, telling jurors the child’s body temperature was 104.7 when she arrived at a hospital. “Heat to that extent can cause hypothermia in the body that can affect the brain,” Aldous said.
Attorney Dana Fox, who represents the hotel, said Journey’s mother was distracted by blowing up water toys and talking to another woman at the water park and failed to see her daughter was in distress.
Initially Journey and her 5-year-old friend got into the hot tub, but then the other girl went to play elsewhere in the water park, leaving Journey alone in the tub, Fox said.
“The evidence is going to show mom did not sit by the spa,” Fox said. “She sat about 21 feet away.”
Journey’s mom did not realize her daughter was in distress until her stepbrother said, “What’s wrong with Journey?” Fox said.
An expert is expected to testify that the youngster was under the water for two to four minutes, Fox said. When she was pulled out, she was not breathing and a “lot of water came out of her lungs” as CPR was done to revive her, Fox said.
Fox disputed the claim the water’s temperature was between 106 and 109. He said the plaintiff’s expert used the “wrong methodology.”
A sign near the hot tub says children under 12 are not allowed to use the spa without supervision, Fox said. The Orange County Health Care Agency did an unannounced inspection of the water park not long before the emergency and did not find any health or safety violations, Fox said.
The 2008 plans to make the water park were approved by the city and a barrier around the hot tub was not required, Fox said.
Journey’s brain injury was “a complication of hand, foot, mouth disease,” which is a common children’s virus causing sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet, Fox said.