We have previously written about the safety precautions necessary for residential pools, and about how important it is for homeowners to observe basic safety standards, given the inherent dangers of a residential pool. We also discussed the many laws that detail how securely a residential pool and its surrounding areas must be kept, laws that exist to safeguard not just adults, but children and the elderly who are most vulnerable to drowning.
But what about public pools? Areas like hotels, YMCAs, gyms, health clubs, amusement parks, and condominium buildings all may have thousands of people of all ages using their pools (sometimes thousands daily, as in the case of a busy amusement park).
What responsibility do they have to prevent patrons from drowning in their pools? What precautions to do they have to take to make sure that their pool areas are safe for visitors?
Laws Not as Tough as You May Think
You may think that because of the increased number of visitors to amusement park or hotel pools, the laws would be more stringent or that they would provide greater protections than the laws for residential pools. In fact, the laws for public pools are not very strict at all.
The only statutory law in Florida’s statutes with regard to public pools is one that requires anti-entrapment and reverse suction devices.
Pools have drains in them, sometimes in multiple areas. Those drains create a suction effect with the surrounding water. A child’s foot or limb can easily cover the drain as the child reaches for a toy or just enjoys the feeling of the suction. The drain’s suction can hold the limb so tightly, that the child can not break free to get to the surface. As a result, drowning can occur.
The suction can be so strong—sometimes hundreds of pounds—that there are incidents where parents were not able to free children from these drains.
Thus, Florida law requires protective drain covers, which are designed to avoid human limbs from getting close enough to drains to get latched onto them. Still, these devices can fail or get knocked off. As a result, as backup, federal law, and Florida law, require pools to have vacuum release devices, which will turn off the suction if any obstruction is detected.
(As an aside, if a child is ever sucked onto a drain, experts advise that parents do not pull the child, as the suction will be too strong. Rather, parents should try to wedge a finger between the limb and the drain, and then slide the limb sideways, parallel to the drain, until the limb is no longer covering it).
You may be wondering what happened to any requirement to provide lifeguards. In fact, there is no explicit requirement in Florida law, although certain counties may have their own ordinances on the issue. Providing voluntary lifeguards is a controversial issue.
Many establishments have concern that if they provide a lifeguard, they are opening themselves up to more lawsuits than if they do not have one. They have concern that if someone drowns or is injured in the pool, the competency and reaction of the lifeguard will immediately be questioned. They may be concerned that victims will question what the lifeguard was doing, whether they were being attentive, or even whether there were enough lifeguards given certain crowds or swimming areas.
These concerns have some basis in reality, as the law does say that if an establishment undertakes a duty—such as the duty to provide a lifeguard—they must do so competently. And in fact, Florida law does say that any lifeguard that is used must be certified by the red cross, the YMCA, or another recognized certification organization.
Other larger establishments, like amusement or theme parks or larger hotels, recognize that some level of supervision is needed because just because the law says a lifeguard is not legally required, does not mean it is not negligent not to have one.
Put another way, there still can be situations in which a public pool area is such that any reasonable and prudent business owner should know that a lifeguard should be present.
The concept of negligence is one that is ultimately determined by a jury, which will decide what is reasonable under the circumstances. A law may not say a business must have a lifeguard present. But a hotel with three pools, a waterslide, and 200 children running everywhere, can still be found negligent by a jury if it opts to have no lifeguards at all.
Make Sure You are Welcome There
Remember that any duty or heightened legal obligation that a pool owner has to keep a pool area safe and to use reasonable care towards you as a business invitee, will not apply if you are a trespasser.
You can be a trespasser if, for example, you sneak into the local hotel pool, or if someone who is authorized to be in a pool area sneaks you in with them. You can also be a trespasser for being in a pool area after the establishment close the pool area.
Thus, in pool accident cases, property owners will always ask as a preliminary matter, whether the injured party had a legal right to be using the pool in the first place.
Drowning and pool related injuries can be catastrophic. If you are injured in a pool in a public location, whether it is an amusement park, theme park, or hotel, contact the injury attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation to discuss your case.