Without proper supervision and adequate safety measures, a summer swim in the backyard pool can quickly take a tragic turn
Chilling statistics on household pools
There are approximately 10.4 million residential swimming pools in the US and with recent Boston temperatures creeping up into the low 90’s local homeowners who have one on their property have surely been making good use of them. Swimming is the fourth-most popular sport among Americans, and especially for children and teens for whom it is hands down, the favorite recreational activity. The data on unintentional drownings, however, can be as chilling as a jump into a cold pool on a hot day. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agency informs, the average number of drowning deaths from 2005 to 2014 was 3,536 annually. Statistics provided jointly by the American Red Cross and National Swimming Pool Foundation additionally inform that over 200 young children drown in backyard swimming pools each year. These numbers will surely seem alarming, to say the least, to every parent, but childless homeowners should also take note as swimming pool accidents and injuries can give rise to liability claims for which the owner of the pool can be held responsible. As this fact often comes as a surprise for those who have backyard pools on their property, this article will offer additional information on the risk factors involved in swimming pool accidents and how the risk can be mitigated.
Keep an eye on the children
The first thing to know in relation to unintentional drownings is that although insufficient swimming ability, or a complete lack thereof, poses a substantial danger for swimming pool users, most accidents actually occur when the pool is not being actively used for recreational purposes but rather is simply left unsupervised. This has to do with the fact that many victims of swimming pool accidents are young children. Sadly, among children 1 to 4 years-old, only birth defects are a more common cause of death than drownings. The reason for this is that it takes a relatively short time for this kind of accident to occur. A tragic incident can happen when a child is left unsupervised near a pool for even a very short while, for example, when a parent is answering the door, trying to salvage an overcooked dinner, or engaging in any other kind of urgent activity that can temporarily consume their attention. Thus, the American Red Cross recommends installing appropriate safety measures that could prevent such accidents. Among the suggestions made by the organization is equipping the pool with a 4-feet high fence or a barrier with a self-closing and self-latching gate. Placing a safety cover on the pool or even installing an alarm can increase safety even further.
A lack of proper supervision is arguably the first and foremost issue from which liability may arise in case of an accident. Of course, as in many other similar circumstances, liability will be closely connected with the issue of negligence – or a breach of a duty of care. The home pool owner is expected to take such care and to ensure that all users of the pool are properly supervised. Children should never use the pool if an adult is not present but it is also a good idea to designate a person responsible to watch the water any time someone is using the pool, regardless of their age. Providing life jackets or other flotation devices for those whose swimming skills are poor can likewise decrease the probability of an accident. Home swimming pool owners should also be aware that local regulations may exist obliging them to equip the pool with specific safety measures not mentioned in this article.
Another factor to be taken into consideration are potential liability claims arising from slip and fall injuries. The risk of this kind of accident is obviously high in the area surrounding the swimming pool and so its owner should take reasonable measures to prevent slip and fall accidents. A failure to provide such safety means as non-slip surfaces around the pool or even a failure to clean up puddles of water on the pool deck can all become the basis for a negligence liability claim in case of an accident.
Although residential swimming pool owners should take considerable care to ensure the safety of their facilities, in most cases they will be free from liability if a person injured on their property was trespassing. A notable exception to this rule however is if those trespassers happen to be children, according to the legal doctrine known as attractive nuisance. This legal theory states that property owners are under a special obligation to take additional safety measures to protect trespassing children if something on their property can be considered so attractive to children that it is likely to impel them to trespass on the property. Liability claims made against the property owner based on attractive nuisance make sense in a court of law because children are considered to lack the ability to understand potential dangers. Parents of a child who was involved in this type of accident should consult an experienced attorney to explore all viable legal options.
The next 6 weeks or so in Boston are likely to see temperatures reaching an average high of 80°F, with some days continuing to climb close to 90°. The opportunities to enjoy a recreational swim will, therefore, be many, especially for those who have a backyard swimming pool on their property. Remembering to take reasonable precautions and to follow necessary safety measures, such as those mentioned in this article, can help all to enjoy this summer safely and with peace of mind.