Florida has one of the highest rates of accidental drowning deaths in the United States. According to Florida Health, the Sunshine State ranked fifth worst in the nation in 2020, and it had the highest rate of unintentional drownings among children between the ages of zero and nine according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As put into perspective by Florida Health, “Annually there are enough children under the age of 5 lost to drowning . . . to fill three or four preschool classrooms.”
These are tragic statistics. Sadly, if you have lost a loved one due to an accidental drowning in Florida, you are not alone. More than 100 people die in Florida swimming pools each year. These deaths happen for a variety of reasons; and, while grieving families won’t have grounds to pursue a claim in all cases, many families can—and should—hire a lawyer to pursue a claim for wrongful death.
Common Causes of Fatal Swimming Pool Accidents
Determining whether your family has a wrongful death claim starts with determining the cause of your loved one’s death. Accidental drownings can happen for a variety of reasons, many of which can—and should—be prevented by pool owners and management companies.
When investigating the cause of your loved one’s accidental drowning, your family’s lawyer will examine all possible causes of death. This includes common causes of fatal swimming pool accidents such as:
Adequate supervision of swimming pools is critical for preventing accidental drownings. Accidents can happen quickly; and, without a parent, lifeguard, or other responsible person there to take action when necessary, accidents can tragically turn fatal. Along with rescuing children and others who get stuck underwater or fall into the pool while unconscious, lifeguards and others with supervisory responsibility can also prevent overcrowding and other potentially dangerous scenarios.
Inadequate Pool Cleaning and Maintenance
Adequate pool cleaning and maintenance are also essential. Failure to clean and maintain pools can allow harmful bacteria to proliferate, and this can make the water dangerous for swimmers. Leaves and other debris on the surface of the pool can also be dangerous for swimmers—and they can make it difficult for parents, lifeguards, and others to see swimmers who are in distress.
Overcrowding of swimming pools presents several risks. In crowded swimming pools, swimmers are more likely to collide with one another, potentially resulting in unconsciousness in the water. Swimmers who are in distress can be more difficult to see in crowded swimming pools as well. Swimming pools at hotels and resorts, on cruise ships, and at other businesses have occupancy limits, and failure to enforce these limits can have tragic consequences.
Slip-and-Fall and Trip-and-Fall Hazards
Slip-and-fall and trip-and-fall hazards around pools can be extremely dangerous. If a swimmer hits his or her head and falls unconscious before falling into a pool, an otherwise non-life-threatening accident can quickly turn fatal. As a result, pool owners and management companies should ensure that pools’ decks are free of these hazards whenever someone is swimming (or might be swimming), regardless of their age.
Pool Equipment Malfunctions
Pool equipment malfunctions can also prove fatal in some cases. This includes malfunctions that result in dangerous levels of chlorine and other chemicals, as well as malfunctions involving pumps, drain covers, and other equipment that potentially cause swimmers to get stuck underwater. Here, too, adequate pool maintenance is key; and, when pool owners and management companies allow pools to fall into disrepair, they can—and should—be held responsible.
When Pool Owners and Management Companies Can Be Held Liable
We’ve already touched on a couple of the scenarios in which pool owners and management companies can be held liable for fatal swimming pool accidents. But, there are numerous other scenarios in which grieving families can file wrongful death claims following fatal swimming pool accidents as well. Here is an overview of some of the most common grounds for asserting families’ legal rights:
- Failure to Provide Adequate Supervision – Inadequate supervision is a leading cause of preventable swimming pool deaths. While supervision isn’t required in all circumstances, when it is required, swimming pool owners and management companies can be held liable if they allow unsupervised swimming.
- Failure to Prevent Access – Pool owners and management companies must take reasonable steps to prevent access by unattended children. They must also take reasonable steps to prevent access when pools are unsupervised (if supervision is required).
- Failure to Balance the Pool’s Chemicals – Pool chemicals must be balanced regularly to ensure that the water is safe for swimmers. Unbalanced pools can present serious risks for swimmers of all ages.
- Failure to Keep the Pool (and Pool Deck) Free of Hazards – Swimming pools and pool decks should be free from hazards at all times. This includes leaves and other debris covering the water’s surface as well as slip and trip hazards around the pool.
- Failure to Enforce Swimming Pool Rules and Regulations – Failure to enforce occupancy limits and other swimming pool rules and regulations can lead to dangerous, and potentially life-threatening, situations. All pool owners and management companies should enforce these rules and regulations at all times.
- Failure to Perform Necessary Maintenance and Repairs – As discussed above, inadequate pool maintenance can lead to a variety of dangers. Pool owners and management companies should timely perform all maintenance and repairs as needed.
- Failure to Close the Pool When Necessary – If a pool is unsafe for any reason, closing the pool may be necessary. Knowingly allowing children or adults to swim in a pool that isn’t safe can establish clear liability for any fatal accidents that occur.
Again, these are just some of the most common grounds. Parents and other family members who have lost loved ones in fatal swimming pool accidents in Florida can file a wide variety of other types of claims as well. If you have lost a child or other loved one in a fatal swimming pool accident under any circumstances, you should speak with a lawyer about your family’s legal rights.
Filing a Wrongful Death Claim for a Pool Drowning in Florida
When filing a claim for the loss of a loved one in a pool drowning, families must comply with Florida’s wrongful death statute. While grieving families will have clear legal rights in many cases, asserting these legal rights requires a clear understanding of the rules and requirements that apply.
In Florida, only the victim’s (or “decedent’s”) personal representative is eligible to file a wrongful death claim. The personal representative files “for the benefit of the decedent’s survivors and estate,” meaning that any financial compensation recovered will be distributed to qualifying family members in accordance with Florida law and the victim’s estate plan (if any).
With this in mind, identifying your loved one’s personal representative is one of the first steps toward filing a claim after a fatal swimming pool accident in Florida. Your lawyer can assist with this process. Your lawyer can also conduct a thorough investigation—which is a key early step as well. When you hire a lawyer to represent your family, your lawyer will explain everything you need to know, and your lawyer will take all of the steps that are necessary to ensure that your family’s legal rights are protected.
Damages Your Family May Be Entitled to Recover
Under Florida’s wrongful death law, families can recover several types of damages following fatal swimming pool accidents. These damages are intended to financially compensate qualifying family members for the financial and non-financial losses they suffer as a result of their loved one’s passing.
Examples of financial damages that are available to spouses, parents, and other qualifying family members in Florida wrongful death cases include:
- Medical, funeral, and burial expenses
- Other out-of-pocket expenses
- Loss of income and benefits
- Loss of inheritance
Examples of non-financial damages that may be available in a fatal swimming pool accident include:
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of guidance and support
- Loss of services
In limited circumstances, the victim’s personal representative may be able to file a claim for punitive damages as well. Punitive damages are intended to punish bad actors for grossly negligent or reckless conduct. Your family’s lawyer can determine if a claim for punitive damages is warranted; and, if so, your family’s lawyer can seek both compensatory and punitive damages to maximize your family’s financial recovery.
FAQs: Asserting Your Family’s Legal Rights After a Fatal Swimming Pool Accident
Where do most fatal drowning accidents occur?
According to the U.S. Swim School Association, 87 percent of fatal drowning accidents involving children under the age of five occur in home swimming pools and hot tubs. While older swimmers are more likely to die in lakes and other natural bodies of water, fatal swimming pool accidents involving older children and adults are not uncommon.
Why are fatal swimming pool accidents so common in Florida?
One of the main reasons why fatal swimming pool accidents are so common in Florida is simply the fact that Florida has so many swimming pools. Many homeowners have their own pools; and, as a vacation destination, Florida is home to countless hotels, motels, resorts, and rental homes with swimming pools as well. But, pool safety is also a very real concern; and, if more pool owners and management companies complied with Florida’s swimming pool rules and regulations, there would be far fewer fatal drowning accidents each year.
How long do you have to file a wrongful death claim for a fatal drowning in Florida?
In most cases, grieving families have two years from the date of their loved one’s drowning to file a wrongful death claim in Florida. However, if you have lost a loved one in a fatal swimming pool accident, we strongly recommend that you speak with a lawyer about your family’s legal rights as soon as possible.
Who can file a wrongful death claim for a fatal drowning in Florida?
Under Florida law, only the victim’s personal representative is eligible to file a wrongful death claim. Our lawyers can help you identify your loved one’s personal representative, and we can take all of the other steps that are necessary to assist your loved one’s personal representative with asserting your family’s legal rights.
Should I hire a lawyer if I lost a loved one in a fatal swimming pool accident in Florida?
Yes, if you have lost a loved one in a fatal swimming pool accident in Florida, you should speak with a lawyer promptly. At Silva & Silva, we provide free initial consultations, and we do not charge any legal fees unless we help our clients recover just compensation.
Discuss Your Family’s Legal Rights with a Lawyer at Silva & Silva
If you need to know more about asserting your family’s legal rights after a fatal swimming pool accident in Florida, we invite you to get in touch. To schedule a free initial consultation at Silva & Silva, please call 305-445-0011 or inquire online today.