Owning a backyard pool can be a lot of fun, especially on those warm Florida days, but it is also a huge responsibility. Having a pool on your property drastically increases the likelihood of a drowning, no matter how careful a homeowner may be. In fact, every year, approximately 7,000 drowning deaths occur in the United States. Eighty percent of them occur in residential swimming pools, which is why it is important that a homeowner understands his or her responsibilities before installing or purchasing a home with a pool.
According to a 2017 report from the USA Swimming Foundation, the State of Florida leads the nation in the number of child drowning deaths. Eighty percent of swimming pool accidents in 2017 involved a child under the age of five with a total of 51 percent resulting in fatalities.
In 2000, Florida lawmakers acknowledged the seriousness of this issue and passed the Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act, which made additional safety requirements for homeowners building residential pools.
Florida law defines a swimming pool as any structure that contains water that is more than 24 inches (2 feet) deep. Florida homeowners must choose at least one of the following four safety measures when installing a pool, spa, or hot tub:
- A barrier at least four feet high that separates the pool from the home, such as a fence or wall;
- A pool cover meeting the standards required by the American Society for Testing and Materials;
- Exit alarms on all doors and windows accessible to the pool; or
- A self-closing, self-latching lock on all doors or gates that give access to the pool.
The law also requires all pool contractors to provide the homeowner with a copy of the state’s law and a drowning prevention pamphlet titled “Safety Barrier Guidelines for Home Pools.”
If a pool remains open at night, both the pool and pool deck must have proper lighting. If the homeowner wants to allow “night swimming,” he or she must have a professional conduct a field test to ensure all lighting requirements are met.
Considering the risks associated with drowning and residential pools, it is often recommended that homeowners have all of these safety devices to not only protect those living in the home or invited by the homeowner, but also those who may come onto the property without the homeowner’s permission or knowledge.
The law of premises liability often applies when it comes to pool accidents since the pool is located on the homeowner’s property. Premises liability governs who is deemed liable for an accident occurring that results in any injury. How and why a person is on another individual’s property governs the standard of care the property owner has to that person.
Usually if someone is invited or is permitted on the property, the homeowner is required to ensure the pool is “reasonably safe” for its intended use. The homeowner must also warn social guests or invitees of any dangers not obvious to the average person.
If someone is injured and has trespassed on the homeowner’s pool property, the homeowner technically does not owe that person a duty of care other than to keep from causing the trespasser intentional harm. However, the big exception to this rule is if the trespasser is a child, which is often the case.
The law of attractive nuisance is applied if the trespasser is a young child who may not understand the dangers of drowning. The child may simply be tempted to swim in the pool, and serious injuries or even death often result in these unfortunate situations. In these circumstances, the property owner must ensure certain safety measures exist if the dangerous condition is known to or should be known to cause unreasonable risk of harm to a child.
A pool causes that unreasonable risk of harm since most children, especially younger ones, do not understand the risks involved with the dangerous condition. The homeowner must ensure that the pool is protected, keeping the child out. Following the requirements issued by Florida law should eliminate those dangers and protect the homeowner from liability. However, if the homeowner fails to follow these guidelines, or if another risk occurs, such as a broken fence or faulty lock, and the homeowner fails to fix this known danger in a reasonable manner, he or she will be held responsible if an injury results due to a younger trespasser.
Keeping the pool surface free of slippery conditions that could cause a slip and fall and warning swimmers of the dangers of diving into shallow waters is also important to protect any type of swimmer, whether he or she be invited or a trespasser. It is for this reason that a pool owner should conduct regular inspections of the property to ensure that all safety measures are up to date.