Drowning Accidents

One of the biggest allures of living in Florida is also one of its greatest dangers: Water.

Florida has the highest drowning rate in the nation for children over the age of 5. While the state has more than 11,000 miles of rivers, streams and waterways, and nearly 700 miles of beaches, more than half of all drowning incidents occur in residential swimming pools, according to the Florida Department of Health. Broward County has more swimming pools than anywhere else in the state – more than 114,000. Palm Beach counted 101,000 while Miami-Dade has 77,000. That means the risk of drowning – especially for young children – is extremely high when landowners fail to properly secure their pools.

At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale wrongful death attorneys recognize that many drowning incidents can be directly attributed to lacking pool safety features.

Property owners can be liable for drowning deaths and near-drowning incidents when they fail to use due care to ensure invited guests – and even some trespassers – will be safe from unreasonable harm.

Child Drowning Victims

Children are especially vulnerable to drowning. In fact, the health department reports there are approximately 450 Floridians who drown every year, and approximately 350 hospitalizations for non-fatal drownings. Children between the ages of 1 and 4 comprise 13 percent of all fatalities and 44 percent of deaths.

Each year, the number of children who drown in Florida is equivalent to three to four preschool classrooms.

The fatal drowning rate for young males was 2.2 times that of young females.

Children under 5 are most likely to drown in a swimming pool, while children between the ages of 5 and 9 are more likely to drown in an open or natural body of water. Although drownings occur year-round in Florida, nearly 70 percent happen between April and September.

Because children are more susceptible to drowning, the law provides special protections when it comes to property owner’s duty of care for their sake even when they are trespassing. Normally, property owners have very minimal duty when it comes to protecting trespassers. Mostly, landowners must avoid intentionally creating dangerous conditions on site for trespassers to encounter. But when it comes to child trespassers, swimming pools and other bodies of water may be considered “attractive nuisances.”

What Is An “Attractive Nuisance?”

Attractive nuisances, as defined in F.S. 823.08, are items, objects or features on a property – either natural or man-made – that lure yet are a danger to children, who because of their youth cannot fully appreciate the risk.

These could include anything from abandoned cars on a site to an old well to trampolines to swimming pools.

Property owners who have pools or other bodies of water on site need to know that when these features are left unsecured and unattended, children might seek them out and be at risk of drowning.

The Florida Supreme Court held in the 1954 case of Carter v. Livesay Window Co. Inc. that the issue of whether a child had trespassed was not material to the question of property owner liability. Rather, courts need to consider if a reasonable person should have known children might be present where there existed a dangerous condition or instrumentality. When a drowning incident occurs in a residential neighborhood or near parks or playgrounds, this risk is deemed especially high.

Swimming Pool Safety Rules

Because swimming pools pose such high risk of drowning in Florida, state lawmakers decided to require property owners to ensure certain protections on site. These vary depending on whether the landowner has a public pool or a private pool.

  • Public Pool and Spa Owners – These landowners are overseen by F.S. 514.0315. These must be equipped with anti-entrapment systems or a device that complies with the standards set by the American National Standards Institute, which includes gravity drainage systems, automatic pump shut-offs and a device that disables the drain.

  • Residential Pool Owners – These landowners are bound by F.S. 515.27. It requires that the pool is isolated from access to a home by enclosure that meets certain specified pool barrier requirements, spelled out in F.S. 515.29 (i.e., barrier at least 4 feet high on the outside, may not have any gaps/ opening/ indentations/ protrusions for a young child to crawl under, climb over or squeeze through, placed sufficiently away from the edge of a pool so that a young child or medically frail elderly person who got in would not immediately fall in the water, etc.). Otherwise, the pool needs to have an approved safety cover or an exit alarm on all doors/ windows with direct access to the pool. Failure to abide this statute is a second-degree misdemeanor.

These laws were intended to reduce the risk of injury and drowning. Failure to abide these statutes might be proof of negligence per se, or negligence by violation of safety laws. However, even if these criteria are all met, a landowner may still be liable for injuries if they failed to use reasonable care to protect children and guests.

Call the injury attorneys at The Ansara Law Firm at (877) 277-3780 or locally in Broward at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties.