Movie star Demi Moore was out of the country when a 21-year-old man drowned in the swimming pool at her residence. The victim’s family is now suing the actress for damages, alleging that the pool was excessively deep, that rocks near the pool’s edge created a tripping hazard, and that the 101-degree temperature of the water was excessively high.
Any injury or fatality involving a swimming pool is tragic, especially because such incidents can be prevented. As a pool owner, it’s up to you to prevent senseless tragedies—and the property liability lawsuits that inevitably follow.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks accidental drownings in the United States, and the numbers are sobering:
- There have been an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually from 2005 to 2014—about 10 deaths per day.
- One in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger—making drowning the second leading cause of death among children. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for their nonfatal submersion injuries.
- More than 50 percent of drowning victims treated in emergency departments require hospitalization or further care. (This is significantly higher than the 6 percent overall rate for all unintentional injuries.)
- Nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities.
Who’s to blame?
A pool owner can be “100 percent liable” if their negligence caused or contributed to someone’s injuries, according to Eric Terry, an attorney at TorHoerman Law. Terry has extensive knowledge on swimming pool liability and recently represented a family whose little girl drowned in a tragic swimming pool accident.
“Some of the more common potential problems with pools are unattended children finding their way into the pool, intoxicated guests suffering injuries while in the pool, injuries from diving or jumping into shallow water, and electrical problems (cracked lights, improperly grounded wiring) that enable an electric current to enter the water,” cautions Terry.
How pool owners can protect themselves
Fence it in. “Pool owners should ensure that they are in compliance with all local ordinances regarding pool safety and that they have secure fencing around the pool to keep uninvited guests and unattended children out of the area,” says Terry.
The Consumer Product and Safety Commission’s Pool Safely campaign recommends installing a fence that is at least 48 inches high and has a self-closing, self-latching, child-resistant gate.
Install a safety cover. These trampoline-like covers are available for both in-ground and above-ground pools and provide year-round safety.
Set up a pool alarm. Research the various types of alarms that will alert you if someone has entered the danger zone: perimeter alarms, gate alarms, pressure-sensitive alarms, and wearable alarms (for children).
Invest in safety equipment. If someone makes it past the cover, fence, or alarm, then immediate action may be needed to prevent a tragedy. Simple water-rescue items, such as a lifesaver with a rope or a shepherd’s crook, can save a life.
Supervise. It’s up to you to keep an eye on your swimming pool. Increase the frequency and intensity with which you supervise the pool, even when it’s not in use. Do your part to ensure that it remains a source of pleasure and leisure and never becomes an accident scene.
Get adequate insurance. Accidents can happen—even in pools with the most diligent, safety conscious owners. So it’s imperative for pool owners to have substantial property (or premise) liability insurance. In most cases, this means purchasing an umbrella liability policy, which provides coverage far greater than that in your homeowner’s policy.