Summer is in full swing. Throughout Northwest Florida, as is true across much of the United States, swimming pools are one of the most popular places to be. Swimming is one of the highlights of a summer vacation; individuals and families visiting Florida hotels often make the swimming pool their first stop after dropping their bags in their room (children often don't want to wait even that long!). Like many of you, we love swimming. Like all of you, we love our community's children much more. While we'd rather the need never arise, we stand ready to advocate for victims in the case of a hotel pool drowning.
One family's Florida vacation was interrupted by some terrifying moments over the weekend. As detailed by reporters with the Northwest Florida Daily News, at approximately 4 P.M. on Sunday, witnesses pulled a six year-old girl from the bottom of the swimming pool at the Tops'l Beach and Racquet Resort. A doctor, on vacation himself and at the pool merely by chance, started CPR. Both Walton County Sheriff's Department and the South Walton Fire District responded to the scene. By the time the ambulance arrived, she was alert and responsive.
The property is located in Walton County at 9001 U.S. Highway 98, Destin. Reports indicate the girl and her family are from Atlanta and were in Florida for a family reunion. Authorities transported her to Sacred Heart Hospital. Her condition was not known as of the time of the article.
Poolsafety.gov, an effort spearheaded by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, provides an infographic filled with statistics on Drowning Deaths and Injuries. The page opens with a reminder that drowning is the #1 cause of unintentional death for children between the ages of 1 and 4.
On average, 390 children die annually from drowning in pools and spas across the country and emergency rooms treat an average of 5,100 children each year for injuries stemming from a drowning incident in a pool or spa. Of special note -- the page cites 2012 media reports suggesting that Florida saw 42 accidental drowning deaths involving kids ages 0 to 14, the highest number of fatalities seen in any state.
Typically, a civil injury or wrongful death action involving a child drowning on a hotel property is a matter of premises liability law. This area of law deals with the duties a property owner/operator may owe to someone who enters the property. Under this doctrine, the precise duties owed depend on the relationship between the owner/operator and the visitor. The highest level of duties attaches when guests are invited onto the property for a business purpose.
Generally, a hotel must maintain all areas, including pools, in a reasonably safe condition and warn of possible dangers that may not be obvious (ex. water too shallow for diving). Hotels may be held liable if their pool areas fail to comply with safety laws and requirements, including such as having appropriate safety equipment available and keeping drains and other parts in safe working order.
Special protections extend to children. While there are usually very limited protections extended to trespassers, the attractive nuisance doctrine protects children who are technically trespassers but are drawn to the property by a tempting feature such as a pool or trampoline.
Owners will be held liable in civil court if they fail to take reasonable steps to protect children from being injured by such property features. Pool owners must, for example, provide special protections to prevent children from accessing a pool during "closed" hours and falling victim to a dangerous accident. Failing to do so may open them up civil liability.
Pools can be great fun and can even provide help keep people safe from the summer heat. Whether you are a resident or a visitor, we hope your days by area swimming pools form wonderful memories that will last forever. If, instead, your memories become nightmares because of a negligent hotel or other careless pool owner/operator, please call us.
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