Jacuzzi tubs pose safety concern for elderly

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Their marketing material sells peace of mind, and the target buyers of Jacuzzis, by the thousands, are America’s aging population.

“Once he saw that advertisement, that’s what he wanted,” Trace Smith said.

Mack Smith, in his 60s, fit the demographic to a tee.

After a lifetime of public service and the aches and pains that come with it, Smith was ready to invest in his own Jacuzzi brand walk-in tub.

“I saw the bill and I was like, 'You’ve got to be kidding me,'” Trace Smith, Mack Smith’s son, said.

“Fifteen grand for the tub?” Channel 2 Investigator Joel Eisenbaum asked.

“Once you have installation and all that,” Smith said.

What Mack Smith could not know is that Jacuzzi’s own chief engineer, in a videotaped deposition as part of a civil lawsuit against Jacuzzi, painted a much plainer picture of the product.

“This bathtub is just a bathtub with a door in it,” Michael Dominguez, director of engineering for Jacuzzi, said in a taped deposition.

“What tests did they do to see if this tub is designed for seniors? Zero,” Charles Allen, the Smiths' attorney, said.

“This tub is basically a death trap. You're not buying a tub, you're buying a casket,” Trace Smith said.

On Dec. 12, 2016, Mack Smith’s wife placed a 911 call.

“I have an emergency. My husband is drowning in the bathtub,” Barbara Smith said.

“He slides out of the seat of the tub,” Allen said.

“His feet were directly in the air, kicking,” Trace Smith said.

That same startling account was captured in emergency medical service and hospital reports we obtained, along with the 911 call.

“You still can't get him and let the water out?” the 911 operator asked.

“No. There's no way. He's a big man, and he's on the bottom of the Jacuzzi tub,” Barbara Smith said.

According to Barbara Smith’s account, her husband ended up wedged in the tub with his feet above him and his head underwater, and she could not get him or the water out of the tub, which has a door that opens inward.

“My dad would be alive right now if it weren't for that tub,” Trace Smith said.

The medical examiner officially ruled Mack Smith's heart stopped due to drowning.

His family is now suing Jacuzzi, along with the company that installed the tub and the company that sold it.

READ: Smith Jacuzzi Lawsuit

“We have an issue with the design of that door,” Robert Swint, owner of ATA Associates, said.

As part of that lawsuit, the Smiths' attorneys have hired a Houston product testing firm, ATA Associates, who in turn hired test subjects.

ATA Associates reports nearly three-quarters of them found at least one problem with the tub's design.

“I had to slide right to the edge of the bench,” one test subject said.

And if you slide off?

“Essentially, you can be trapped in a very confined space,” Eisenbaum said.

“I think it’s a death trap," Ben Cloward, an attorney, said.

“Conclusion? This particular design with the elderly can be extremely dangerous,” Swint said.

In their lawsuit, the Smiths call the Jacuzzi walk-in tub defective and "a deathtrap for nearly any elderly person who happens to fall down,” while advertising, "Jacuzzi is an industry leader with regard to safety."

“You've got a company that is marketing their product to the elderly, and they're using a fear-based tactic,” Cloward said.

Cloward is involved in another lawsuit against Jacuzzi following the 2014 death of 67-year-old Sherry Cunnison.

READ: Cunnison Jacuzzi Lawsuit

“She's in the well at this point, unable to get herself out, and she remains there for two to three days,” Cloward said.

“How did they finally get her out?” Eisenbaum asked.

They had to cut her out, using a "Sawzall."

Cunnison got out of the tub alive, but died days later in the hospital. Her family also filed a lawsuit, calling Jacuzzi and affiliated companies "negligent."

Jacuzzi disputes that claim.

"There are significant facts not included in the complaint. Jacuzzi cannot control how people use or misuse its products," Joshua Cools, an attorney representing Jacuzzi in the Cunnison lawsuit, said.

Cools said that he did not represent Jacuzzi in the Smith matter but that he consulted with Jacuzzi executives. He said the company could not comment on the Smith lawsuit because the company had not yet been served.

Here is Jacuzzi's response:

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