Summer in Alabama seems incomplete without splashing water and the laughter of children around swimming pools. Unfortunately, laughter far too often turns to grief stricken tears when a drowning occurs. Currently, there are too many deaths and injuries because of drowning related accidents. These tragedies would be prevented by the owners and operators of public pools if the pools were safe and free from hazards.
Recently, Cole Portis of our firm, along with attorney Michael Slocumb of Opelika, resolved a case on behalf of a mother who lost her son after he died from drowning in an apartment pool located in Phenix City, Alabama. The pool was not equipped with a lock on the entry gate, a personal floatation device (life preserver), or a rope that divided the shallow end from the deep end. The pool was not marked to note the various depths of the pool, was not properly lighted and was not properly maintained, which resulted in cloudy water that hindered the ability to locate and rescue the swimmer.
Safety violations by this apartment complex are troubling. Sadly, such violations are occurring every day in public pools across our state. In spite of the numerous drownings occurring in our state, there is not a comprehensive state statute that outlines the responsibilities of an apartment or hotel owner that provides a pool as an amenity for its guests and visitors.
In spite of the lack of a comprehensive state law, there are established safety principles and guidelines for pools. One of these guidelines is that non-residential pools should always provide lifeguards. A lifeguard’s primary function is to prevent accidents. They do this by enforcing the pool rules, supervising those who are using the pool, and ensuring the pool is safe for swimming. However, instead of spending the nominal amount of money needed to employ lifeguards, management will post a sign which says:
• NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY
• SWIM AT YOUR OWN RICK
It should be noted that putting up such a sign does not relieve the owner of the pool of any responsibility. I am convinced that no apartment, condominium or hotel pool should be operated without a lifeguard. That is what should be required to assure that pools are safe for swimmers and especially for children.
Additionally, tenants, renters and owners must be fully informed about the proper use of the pool. Comprehensive rules should be provided when one initially rents an apartment and at the beginning of the pool season. One of the specific rules that is rarely enforced are the pool’s operating hours. Apartments, condominiums and hotels must ensure that everyone is out of the pool area when it is time for the pool to close. While the pool is closed, there should be a means of providing surveillance of the pool. Either a television monitor or a security guard will help keep people out of the pool area when it is closed.
I hope and pray that the number of swimming pool cases that our firm handles will decrease. That will depend on whether swimming pool safety is given a higher priority. Unfortunately, pool owners continue to fail to protect the health and safety of the people who use their pools. Sadly, the trend we are seeing is a laissez faire attitude toward pool safety. In fact, since we resolved the case in Phenix City, two other drowning incidents have been investigated and lawsuits filed by our firm. We will continue to fight for safer pools by educating the public and by litigating against those entities that choose to have an unsafe pool that causes someone’s death or brain injury.
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