Who Is Liable For Drowning?
Due to the serious nature of injuries that can result from drowning accidents-including traumatic brain injuries, long-term disabilities, and death-property owners in Florida are required by law to implement precautionary measures in order to prevent their occurrence.
Pool Owner’s Liability
In Florida, the specific level of a pool owner’s liability will depend on whether the person in the pool is an invitee, a trespasser, or a licensee. An invitee is someone from the public or business sphere who has been invited to access and use the pool. A licensee also uses a pool’s facilities by invitation, but typically does so as the homeowner’s friend or social guest. Swimming pools must be maintained in reasonably safe conditions. If dangers are present, then a pool owner must inform all invitees and licensees of such dangers, as well as correct the dangers in a reasonably timely manner.
An individual who enters and uses a pool’s facilities without permission to do so is considered a trespasser, and as such, they do not have as many protections as licensees and invitees. There is one exception to this, which is referred to as the attractive nuisance doctrine. This doctrine applies to children who trespass but do not understand the dangers that pools present; instead, they are simply attracted to pools and driven by their curiosity. In such situations, children can easily fall into pools and drown. In an attempt to prevent these types of drowning accidents, the state of Florida has created a checklist of safety precautions referred to as the Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act (RSPSA). From this list, pool owners are required to enact at least one safety precaution.
Due to the complicated and difficult nature of swimming pool accident laws in Florida, an individual who finds themselves dealing with a swimming pool accident case will need the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney who can identify and present the necessary details in order to obtain compensation for the injuries suffered.
The following is a list of common causes of swimming pool-related injuries and accidents:
- Lack of supervision of young children or weak swimmers
- Nonfunctional or damaged entry gates or pool barriers
- Lack of proper maintenance of pool or surrounding areas
- The absence of safety signs, such as those that prohibit diving and running
- Nonfunctional or damaged filter systems
- Broken glass or pool lights
- Inaccurate maintenance of chemical or water levels
Types of Drowning
There are several types of drowning, including wet drowning, dry drowning, secondary drowning, and near drowning. The most common type that is associated with the general idea of drowning is wet drowning, which occurs when the lungs fill with water, rendering an individual unable to breathe. Splashing, shouting, and other, more passive signs may indicate that a person is drowning. In some cases, wet drowning results in death.
In a dry drowning, an individual’s lungs do not fill with water; instead, the person breathes in a small portion of water, which causes spasms and closure of the larynx. Once the larynx has closed, the individual is unable to take in the necessary amount of oxygen.
A secondary drowning is one which may not become apparent until well after an event in the water-sometimes not for a full day. The process of this type of drowning begins when water enters and remains in the lungs, irritating the lining of the lungs. This eventually leads to the buildup of additional fluid in the lungs, causing an increased respiratory rate, difficulty breathing, coughing, and chest pain.
When an individual is submerged in water and unable to breathe for a prolonged period of time, they may suffer from a near drowning. These types of drownings often occur when individuals are in water yet unable to swim or remain calm, consume alcohol before or during activities near or in water, or have a medical event while in or near water. Due to the lack of sufficient amounts of oxygen for prolonged periods of time, near death drownings can result in brain damage, acute respiratory distress syndrome, or pneumonia.
The 2000 Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act was implemented in Florida in an attempt to lower the rate of drowning-related deaths and injuries in the state. Though adequate supervision was deemed by legislators to be the number one preventative measure of such injuries and deaths, they acknowledged the importance and necessity of pool safety features as well. In light of this acknowledgment, certain requirements were placed on the development of all new residential pools. In order to pass inspection, a residential pool must meet one of the following criteria:
- A barrier must separate the pool from the rest of the household
- There must be a proper safety cover for the pool
- Exit alarms must be present on all doors and windows that provide access to the pool
- Self-closing and latching devices must be present on all doors that provide access to the pool
- Surface sensors designed to send alerts after unauthorized entry to the pool must be present
There are also several requirements related to the use of barriers. Specifically, barriers must be four feet or higher, and provide no way for an individual to climb over. They must also be free from structural damage or openings that could allow for the entrance of a child. Barriers must surround the perimeter of the pool and not contain or be connected to any doors or windows that could provide access to the pool. There must be plenty of space between the edge of the pool and the barrier itself, and any gates on the barriers must open away from the pool and have the ability to self-close and latch.
As compared to residential pools, commercial pool standards are much higher. The following is a list of features that public swimming pools must have:
- An approved anti-entrapment system
- A blockage-detection system designed to stop operation and reverse the flow of a pool when necessary
- Fences containing self-closing and latching gates at least four feet in height
- Deck and walkways with slip-resistant surfaces that are at least four feet wide
- Ladders for entering and/or exiting the pool along the perimeter of the pool spaced 75 feet apart
- A secure storage room for chemicals that requires authorized entrance
Liability for Swimming Pool Drowning in Florida
If a commercial pool owner does not ensure a safe environment for entrants to the pool, then they could be held legally responsible for the damages or injuries that result from accidents in or around the pool. An individual who has suffered an injury from a swimming pool accident may have a personal injury lawsuit on their hands. When filed as a result of a swimming pool accident, these types of lawsuits are based on the concept of premises liability, which maintains that if a property owner’s negligence contributed to injuries sustained on their property, then they may be held liable. In this context, a lack of supervision, improper or malfunctioning equipment, a lack of warning signs, and the absence of proper barriers could all result in a claim of negligence. However, it would have to be proven that the owner indeed breached their duty to maintain a safe pool environment.