Sometimes the only way to get through a hot and humid Florida summer is to dive into a refreshingly cool pool. Many people choose to have in- or above-ground pools in their backyards. They find the time and maintenance worth it for themselves and their families. They are also gracious enough to let friends and neighbors enjoy this amenity as well. But private owners of pools have to be careful. If someone gets hurt or drowns in their pool, they could be held legally responsible. Premises liability must be considered for any and all homeowners.
A Duty of Reasonable Care
All homeowners have a duty of reasonable care toward people they invite into their homes or onto their property. This duty means they need to make sure their home and pool are in good condition and that there are no hidden dangers. To do this, they must make consistent inspections of their home, the pool, and the pool’s surrounding areas like a patio or deck. If the owner finds a problem, like a loose step on the deck stairs or a broken light cover in the pool, it is their responsibility to fix it. If they are unable to fix it before guests come over, they need to warn guests about the problem, or better yet, cover it or put up a barrier so that guests cannot encounter the hazard at all.
If a pool owner does not inspect their pool for danger and fix any problems they arise, they could be considered negligent if someone gets hurt.
What about Trespassers?
A pool owner’s duty toward trespassers is not quite the same as the responsibility they have to keep guests safe. In general, a homeowner is not liable if someone who was not invited comes onto their property and gets hurt or drowns in their pools. The best precaution though is to take active steps to ensure people cannot trespass such as a fence with a locked gate and special pool covers that trespassers cannot easily remove. If an owner can show they made a reasonable effort to stop trespassers they probably will not be held liable for injuries.
However, if the pool owner is aware that people regularly come and swim without a specific invitation, and they do no nothing to stop it, then they have a duty of reasonable care.
Florida Residential Pool Law
Florida has specific safety regulations regarding residential swimming pools. For instance, the pool must have at least one safety feature to pass an inspection, such as an approved safety cover, the doors or windows leading to the pool have an exit alarm or the pool is separated from the house and is enclosed by a barrier. The barrier must be at least 4 feet high, not have any gaps that a child could crawl under or squeeze through, must be around the perimeter of the pool, and must be separate from any fence or enclosure around the yard.
Someone who is found to not have at least one safety feature when a new pool is built can be charged with a misdemeanor crime. However, the owner has 45 days to add the safety feature and attend a drowning prevention program to avoid punishment. If no drowning education prevention program is being held within this time period, this condition is waived.
Special Considerations for Children
Pool owners have a specific legal liability toward trespassing children when it comes to their pool. Children can drown in only a few inches of water, and drowning often occurs quietly and without much splashing. Despite the well-known risks of pools, children are too young and inexperienced to understand the dangers of hopping into someone’s pool unsupervised. They think it will be fun, not dangerous, which is why under Florida law, pools are considered an attractive nuisance.
Under the attractive nuisance doctrine, homeowners can be liable for injuries or the drowning of a trespassing child in their pool if the owner can reasonably anticipate the presence of a child and the owner did not take any precautions to keep children out, even though it was not an unreasonable burden to do so.
For example, if a homeowner has a pool in a neighborhood with a considerable number of children, they can reasonably anticipate children may enter their pool without permission. The pool owner should put up a barrier such as a fence or a pool cover to prevent the children from getting in the pool and potentially getting hurt or drowning.
Contact a Florida Legal Representative
If you have questions regarding your liability as a pool owner or your rights if you were hurt in someone else’s pool, contact the attorneys at Oldham & Smith at 1-800-887-5895. The experienced premises liability attorneys at Oldham & Smith have significant experience in personal injury law and are prepared to assist you today.