For children, swimming pools are both enticing and dangerous. Every year, about 4,000 people drown in swimming pools, and many of them are children. In fact, drowning is the second most common cause of death for children between the ages of one and four. And for every child that dies, another five suffer serious injuries from being submerged in a pool.
In some cases, pool owners can be held financially liable for these injuries and deaths, especially if the incident happened because they failed to properly prevent children from accessing their pool. But what if the owner installed a fence with a gate around the pool? Does that mean they can’t be held liable if a child still manages to get in their pool and drowns?
While fences and gates are important safety measures, they don’t necessarily make pools safe, and they don’t always protect the owner against lawsuits. In this article, we’ll talk about why this is and discuss when a fence is an adequate pool safety measure — and when it isn’t.
Oklahoma Imposes Safety Regulations for Public Pools
First, we need to distinguish between public and private pools since they operate under different sets of laws. In Oklahoma, all public pools must adhere to certain safety standards and requirements set out by state law. Oklahoma law states that all public pools must have:
- Adequate life-saving equipment
- Fencing and a self-closing gate, if outdoors
- A lockable door, if indoors
- A first-aid kit
- A “lifeline” that marks the pool’s deep end
When a public pool operator in Oklahoma ignores these rules and causes an injury or death, they are typically liable for the damages that result.
Federal Safety Laws Require Anti-Entrapment Systems in All Public Pools
In addition to gates and life-saving equipment, public pool owners also have to abide by federal safety laws concerning pool drains. While most drains might seem harmless at first glance, they can entrap a swimmer’s body or hair and put the swimmer in serious danger of drowning. This is particularly true of older pool drain systems that feature powerful suction and wider drain openings.
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In December 2008, the federal government enacted the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. Named after former Secretary of State James Baker’s granddaughter, who drowned after being caught in a spa drain while her family desperately tried to free her, the law requires all public pool owners to install drains with effective anti-entrapment systems. If a pool’s drain system does not comply with this law, the owner and operator are usually liable for damages.
Oklahoma’s Premises Liability Laws for Private Pools
When a pool is not open to the public, different liability rules typically apply. Some cities in Oklahoma, including Tulsa, have their own city-wide pool regulations. Private pool owners must comply with these local laws or risk being held liable for any injuries or deaths that result.
In general, though, private property owners don’t have to protect everyone from every imaginable risk. Instead, their legal obligations vary depending on the circumstances.
For example, if a pool owner invites someone over to use the pool, they have an obligation to warn the guest about any risks that might not be obvious. However, if someone trespasses onto the pool owner’s property and goes for a swim, the owner typically doesn’t have a duty to protect that person from harm and warn them about any notable risks.
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Pool Owners Have a Special Duty to Protect Children
Since children don’t always understand the concepts of trespassing and private property, Oklahoma and most other states recognize that property owners have an extra obligation to prevent children from harm, even in situations where the child comes onto the property uninvited. For this reason, property owners in Oklahoma must identify and address dangerous conditions on their property that might tempt children. The law refers to these enticing hazards — including many swimming pools — as “attractive nuisances.”
So, does installing a fence with a gate qualify as taking reasonable measures to prevent children from gaining access to a pool and drowning? The answer to this question is case-by-case in nature, and it depends on the facts and circumstances of each injury. If the pool owner installed a high-quality fence with a locking gate and kept everything in good repair, this may be enough to prevent them from being held liable if a child manages to break in and gets injured. On the other hand, if the fence was in disrepair or the lock on the gate was broken or ineffective, then simply having installed the fence and gate might not be enough.
In general, if your child suffered injuries or died in a swimming pool accident, the only way to know whether you have a viable case against the pool owner is to contact an attorney who has handled these types of cases before. An experienced attorney should be able to assess the facts of your case and give you their opinion about your best path forward. And if the attorney offers free initial consultations, they can do it at no financial cost or risk to you.
AMA Law: Demanding Justice for Drowning Victims
If you’ve lost a child or had a child suffer serious injuries in a drowning incident, you may have a lot of questions on your mind. The personal injury lawyers at AMA Law are here to help. We can help you determine who may be liable, and if we’re able to take your case, we’ll fight aggressively and relentlessly to get you and your family the financial compensation you deserve.
Public bathing place operations. 63 O.S. Supp. 1981, § 1-1017. Retrieved from https://www.ok.gov/health2/documents/Public%20Bathing%20Places320.pdf
Unintentional drowning: Get the facts. (2016, April 28). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.