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Ontario family files $9M lawsuit after toddler nearly drowns in ice-covered pool

The underwater view of a swimming pool. Getty Corus Radio Ptbo

The family of a toddler who nearly died after falling into an ice-covered pool at a home daycare in Petrolia, Ont., is launching a $9-million lawsuit.

The suit, filed in Sarnia court this month, alleges that the daycare operator, the property owners and the local Children’s Aid Society neglected their duties to ensure a safe environment for Waylon Saunders.

The suit said that the doors to the backyard swimming pool had been left open “to air out the Defendant premises following a basement flood.”

The allegations have not been proven in court.

Provincial police previously said that officers received a report of a child falling into a backyard pool at a home on Juniper Crescent shortly before 3 p.m. on Jan. 24.

Following responses by firefighters, police and paramedics, Saunders was transported to the Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital in Petrolia, where he was first treated.

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“For three hours, medical staff took turns performing CPR and attempting to raise Waylon’s body temperature. For three hours, Waylon was, by most medical definitions dead,” the statement of claim alleges.

The toddler eventually regained a heartbeat and was transferred to London Health Sciences Centre, where he was given a 10 per cent chance of survival.

Left to right: Jessi Baer and Charity Lindsay of the Children’s Hospital Neonatal Paediatric Transport Team, Dr Janice Tijssen and mom Gillian Burnett with son Waylon Saunders in Feb. 2023. London Health Sciences Centre

According to the London Health Sciences Centre, Saunders is estimated to have been underwater for approximately five minutes.

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The statement of claim says he “has suffered deterioration of behaviour, cognition, and communicative skills. He has been left with paralysis on his left side, potential blindness in his left eye, communication changes, and issues with his fine motor skills.”

It adds that there are still “many unknowns” about the full extent of his injuries.

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Waylon Saunders sits in a hospital bed at LHSC in February 2023. via London Health Sciences Service

The defendants in the lawsuit are Paula Slaght (Maness), the daycare operator; Dani, Brooklyn, Roberto and Maria Maola, the property owners; and the Sarnia-Lambton Children’s Aid Society.

The suit alleges that Slaght was operating an unlicensed child-care service and that she failed to provide adequate supervision for the 20-month-old child, failed to provide a safe environment for children in her care, and was not fit to operate a child-care service, among other items.

The Maolas, being the property owners, failed to take any measures to address unsafe conditions on the premises or notify the Saunders family about potential dangers on the premises, the suit alleges.

The plaintiffs are seeking $6 million in general damages and $1 million in special damages as well as a total of $2 million in damages pursuant to the Family Law Act for Saunders’ mother Gillian Burnett, father Garth Saunders, 17-year-old brother and three-year-old sister and two grandmothers.

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The Sarnia-Lambton Children’s Aid Society is named in the suit for “failing to act diligently following previous complaints and/or reports of neglect,” ignoring complaints about the unsafe environment for children, failing to investigate or monitor Slaght after learning “of a condition of neglect and/or danger in the home prior to Waylon’s near drowning,” and more.

When reached for comment, Dawn Flegel, executive director of the Sarnia-Lambton Children’s Aid Society, said “we have not yet been served with the lawsuit so no statement of defence has been filed” and “I’m not able to provide a comment at this time.”

Global News has reached out to Slaght (Maness) and the Maolas but has not received a response.

Slaght (Maness) also faces a criminal charge in connection with the incident. Ontario Provincial Police charged her with criminal negligence causing bodily harm in February.

— with files from Global News’ Marshall Healey and Amy Simon.

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