Swimming pools can be dangerous for children. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “drownings are a leading cause of injury [and] death for young children ages 1 to 14, and three children die every day as a result of drowning.” The CDC also reports that “drowning kills more children 1-4 than anything else except birth defects.” Many drownings and near-drowning occur at swimming pools, and Florida is among the states with the highest concentration of swimming pools in the country. As a result, Florida has recently been ranked highest in the nation for accidental drowning deaths among children ages 0 to 9. This is a tragic statistic, and it can – and should – be improved through proper pool safety practices.
Who is Liable When a Child Gets Injured in a Florida Swimming Pool?When a child gets injured at a pool in Florida, who is responsible? While the answer depends on why the child got injured, responsibility will often rest with the pool’s owner. Pool owners in Florida have a legal responsibility to mitigate the risk of child injuries; and, when they fail to do so, they can – and should – be held accountable. From pools in backyards and neighborhoods to pools at amusement parks and onboard cruise ships, accidents and injuries can occur anytime, anywhere. Pool owners that can be held liable for child injuries in Florida include:
- Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs) – Most neighborhood pools are owned by the neighborhood’s homeowners’ association (HOA). When a child gets injured at a neighborhood swimming pool, whether the child lives in the neighborhood or is visiting a friend, the HOA may be liable.
- Homeowners – Many Florida homeowners have their own swimming pools. When homeowners fail to adequately prevent access to their pools or make other mistakes that increase the risk of injury to children, they (or their homeowners’ insurance companies) may be liable.
- Hotels, Motels, Resorts, and Rental Property Owners – Hotels, motels, resorts, and rental property owners all owe duties to their guests. This includes a duty to adequately maintain any pools on their premises and restrict unsupervised children’s access.
- Condominiums and Apartment Complexes – Condominiums and apartment complexes owe the same duties as other private individuals and entities. When they fail to meet these duties, and when a child gets injured as a result, they deserve to be held legally responsible.
- Parks Departments – Parks departments and other government entities are responsible for ensuring the safety of public pools in Florida. Oversights and shortcomings that result in child injuries can lead to claims under the state’s tort claims act.
- Gyms and Recreational Facilities – Gyms and recreational facilities (rec centers) that have pools also have an obligation to ensure that their pools do not present unreasonable safety risks for children. This includes taking steps to prevent unsupervised access, remedying slip and trip hazards, and meeting various other legal requirements.
- Amusement Parks – Amusement parks that have pools, splash zones, lazy rivers, water slides, and other water attractions must also take adequate steps to protect children from injury. Amusement park pools can get particularly crowded, and this can present additional challenges that amusement parks must overcome.
- Cruise Lines – If your child was injured in a swimming pool accident onboard a cruise ship docked in Florida or out at sea, your family has clear legal rights. Our lawyers can determine if the cruise line is liable; and, if so, we can fight for just compensation on your family’s behalf.
What Types of Accidents and Injuries are Covered?Under Florida law, families can recover financial compensation for child injuries sustained in many types of swimming pool accidents. Swimming pool accidents generally fall under the area of premises liability law, and this means that in order to file a successful claim, it is necessary to prove that the accident resulted from the pool owner’s (or a third party’s) negligence. Under Florida’s premises liability law, property owners owe different duties under different circumstances. The law divides pool users (including children) into four categories: tenants, patrons, guests, and trespassers. Landlords have a duty to exercise reasonable care to inspect and repair common areas that are under their control in order to prevent injuries to tenants. Businesses and homeowners have a duty to either remedy or warn about known property hazards in order to protect their patrons and guests. While property owners generally owe no duties to trespassers, there is an exception for “attractive nuisances” such as swimming pools that are enticing to (and present injury risks for) children. What constitutes property owner (or third party) negligence with regard to a swimming pool? From failing to erect (or fix) a fence to failing to provide adequate supervision, negligence can take many different forms. When pursuing a claim for a swimming pool accident involving a child, the key is to be able to point to the specific negligent act or omission that is responsible for the child’s injury.
Common Swimming Pool AccidentsHere are some common examples of swimming pool accidents that will often be indicative of pool owner (or third party) negligence:
- Near-Drowning Accidents – Near-drowning accidents can happen due to various forms of negligence. This includes everything from failure to prevent access and inadequate supervision to allowing overcrowding and failing to remedy slip and trip hazards.
- Slips and Falls on Pool Decking, Steps, and Diving Boards – All walking surfaces in and around swimming pools should be selected with safety in mind. If surfaces become worn and slippery over time, they should be repaired or replaced before they present a fall risk for children.
- Collisions Between Children and Other Swimmers – Collisions in and around swimming pools are common causes of child injuries. This includes collisions that occur when one child jumps or dives onto another.
- Pool Drain and Filter Accidents – Pool drains, and filters can be extremely dangerous for children if not installed and maintained properly. Drains and filters must also have adequate guarding so that children cannot get their fingers, hands, arms, legs, or feet stuck inside.
- Chemical-Related Accidents – Overtreating and undertreating pools both present risks for children and other swimmers. This includes the risk of adverse reactions to high concentrations of chemicals and the risk of exposure to infectious bacteria.
- Electrocutions – While relatively rare, electrocutions at swimming pools result from either improper installation or inadequate pool equipment maintenance.
Common Swimming Pool InjuriesWhen an individual’s or company’s negligence leads to a swimming pool accident, all injuries that a child sustains in the accident are eligible to be compensated. This includes all forms of physical and psychological harm. For example, injuries for which parents can seek financial compensation following a swimming pool accident in Florida include:
- Back, neck, and spinal cord injuries
- Bone fractures and dislocations
- Cardiovascular and cognitive effects from near-drowning accidents
- Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
- Soft tissue injuries (sprains, strains, and tears)
What Can (and Should) Pool Owners Do to Prevent Child Injuries?Given all of the risks swimming pools present for children, what can (and should) pool owners and others do to prevent child injuries? At a minimum, pool owners must meet the safety requirements established by Florida law. For example, the Florida Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act imposes requirements including:
- All residential pools must have a barrier (i.e., fence) that is at least four feet tall and that does not have “any gaps, openings, indentations, protrusions, or structural components that could allow a young child to crawl under, squeeze through, or climb over the barrier.”
- The barrier of a residential swimming pool must be “placed sufficiently away from the water’s edge to prevent a young child . . . who may have managed to penetrate the barrier from immediately falling into the water.”
- “Gates that provide access to swimming pools must open outward away from the pool and be self-closing and equipped with a self-latching locking device, the release mechanism of which must be located on the poolside of the gate and so placed that a young child cannot reach it over the top or through any opening or gap.”