Public Pool Injuries: Who Is Liable?

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Swimming in a public pool in Fort Lauderdale can be one of the best ways to beat the heat in the summer. Public pools at local parks, aquatic complexes, pool programs, and facilities such as YMCAs can be great places to spend the day, especially for families with children. Unfortunately, not all pool days end well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 people die in unintentional drownings per day. Learn who might be liable for an incident that occurs in a public pool.

Pool Owner Responsibilities for Protecting Children from Accidental Drowning

Swimming pools are “attractive nuisances” in the eyes of the law. These are property elements that are particularly dangerous for neighborhood children because they pose fun or exciting opportunities. Owning an attractive nuisance as a private or public party comes with strict standards of care in terms of keeping wandering children safe. Property owners must take certain measures toward preventing accidental drowning accidents, including:

  • Installing a pool barrier
  • Putting up an effective fence
  • Using a gate with a keycode or lock
  • Covering the pool with a locked cover
  • Installing a motion-sensor alarm on the pool
  • Restricting access to public pools to members only
  • Requiring adults to accompany minors at all times
  • Posting “No Trespassing” and other warning signs

Failure to take reasonable steps to ensure that an attractive nuisance such as a public pool is safe for wandering and trespassing children could result in a preventable drowning incident. If the courts believe that the pool owner should have done more to prevent the injury or death, the owner might be liable for damages.

Other Circumstances That Could Lead to Pool Owner Liability

The public pool’s owner might also be liable for injuries and deaths relating to non-security issues at the pool. For example, if a child suffered chemical poisoning because of too much chlorine in the water, the owner could be responsible for failing to regulate pool chemical levels. Common hazards that could result in owner negligence include:

  • Inadequate maintenance
  • Broken or missing drain covers
  • Dangerous chemical imbalances in the pool
  • Broken glass in the pool
  • Jagged metal on pool ladders and stair railings
  • Slippery surfaces/lack of warning signs
  • Lack of “No Diving” and other safety signs
  • Failure to have life-saving devices nearby

The owner of a public pool can depend on whether the city owns the pool or a private company or party. The City of Fort Lauderdale owns pools in public parks, including the Lauderdale Manors Park Pool, Carter Park Pool, and Bass Park Pool. Accidents at these locations could end in government liability.

Filing a Claim Against the Government for a Public Pool Injury

It is possible for injured parties, family members, and parents to file personal injury or wrongful death claims against the state or local government in Florida. Florida Statutes Section 768.28 waives Florida’s sovereign immunity if a government entity or one of its on-duty employees causes personal injury or death through negligence or wrongful acts. Claims against the government, however, must follow different rules than typical civil claims.

Rather than having four years from the date of the swimming pool accident (as one would in a claim against a non-government party), a claimant only has three years. The claimant must also wait at least 180 days after giving notice of the claim to bring an official lawsuit. The statute of limitations lowers to two years from the date of death in a wrongful death claim.

Damages in a claim against the Florida government have a $200,000 cap. This means a plaintiff cannot recover more than $200,000 regardless of the true value of damages if the defendant is a government entity, such as the City of Fort Lauderdale. The cap increases to $300,000 if more than one state entity is liable. Cases involving the Florida government also cannot result in punitive damages. Always hire an attorney to start the claims process after a public swimming pool accident.