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Swimming Pool Owners Have Legal Duty to Safeguard

Year-round sunshine is one of the many reasons people flock to Florida. It’s also one of the reasons so many residents have pools, and why Florida has the highest unintentional drowning rate in the country for children between the ages of 1 and 14.

It’s for this reason that legislators passed the Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act, codified in Florida Statutes 515.21-37. This measure spells out specific duties of a residential pool owner in terms of certain safety features and barriers.

Those who fail to implement these measures not only commit a misdemeanor crime, their negligence could result in serious injury or death, particularly to a child. In these instances, our Broward swimming pool accident lawyers know that civil litigation is an appropriate recourse for victims’ families.

A civil case regarding a child near-drowning was recently heard by the Maryland Court of Appeals (the highest court in that state). Maryland also has laws requiring certain safety features on residential pools. The question was whether violation of those laws could potentially form the basis for a negligence claim, even when the victim (in this case, a 3-year-old) was a “trespasser.”

The court determined that failure to abide by state statutes regarding swimming pool safety could be enough to form the basis of a negligence lawsuit when injury proximately resulted.

According to court records in the case of Blackburn Ltd. P’ship v. Paul, the child had been playing outside with his older brother at the apartment complex where they lived when he wandered off. He was eventually found at the bottom of the complex pool. Lifeguards who arrived on scene (they hadn’t been at the pool when he entered the gate) pulled him out and performed CPR until the ambulance arrived. He survived, but not without suffering permanent brain damage, which left him unable to perform many basic tasks on his own.

Subsequently, the child’s mother filed a lawsuit, alleging breach of statutory and regulatory duties by failing to comply with state law for pool regulations, and also that the defendants failed to maintain the pool in a reasonably safe condition for all residents, including children.

The defendants argued because the child was unsupervised in the pool area (against the posted rules), he was considered a “trespasser” (as opposed to an invitee or a licensee) and therefore they only owed him a duty to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring him. The defense filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that they could not have owed the boy a greater duty than what his mother owed him, saying the lack of supervision was the true cause of his injuries.

The circuit court granted the defense motion, finding that he became a “trespasser” when he entered the pool area. The court further reasoned that a potential statutory regulation would only be relevant if the defendant owed a duty beyond that of a trespasser.

The boy’s mother appealed. The Court of Special Appeals reversed the circuit court, finding that the defense would have been required to comply with statute regardless of the duty owed to the victim. This alone could be grounds for negligence. Beyond that, the court underscored the fact that child trespassers are treated differently under the law in negligence cases, per the attractive nuisance doctrine.

The Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed, allowing the mother to move forward with her claim.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Blackburn Ltd. P’ship v. Paul, April 28, 2014, Maryland Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Ennabe v. Manosa – Liability for Drunk Driving Crashes Resulting From Underage Consumption, March 6, 2014, Hollywood Swimming Pool Accident Lawyers

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