Increase the safety of your family and guests and reduce your legal liability

The unofficial start of summer – the Memorial Day holiday weekend – isn’t even here yet and already there have been 37 drownings and 38 near-drownings across the U.S. so far this year, according to government statistics.

That’s a lot of tragedies and the peak swimming season hasn’t even begun for most communities in the nation.

To better protect and prepare your family and your property, and to protect your legal rights and liability in connection with swimming injuries, there are several key issues you should keep in mind.

Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/blondiegirl

Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/blondiegirl

First, whether it is your own pool, a private pool, a public pool or a pool that operates through a business, hotel or any other establishment, always watch children at all times to be sure they are safe, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and its Pool Safely safety campaign.

An average of 385 children under 15 years of age died annually in the U.S. due to pool or spa drownings from 2005 through 2007, according to the CPSC.

As a homeowner, you must be vigilant, pro-active and firm about setting safety rules and enforcing them so that guests and family members aren’t accidentally injured or worse.

Here are some key pool and spa rules from the group, Safe Kids USA, to adopt at your home so that you can protect yourself, your family and your guests:

*Actively supervise your children around water at all times, and have a phone nearby to call for help in an emergency.

*Be sure that your pool has four-sided fencing at least four-feet-tall all the way around it. as well as a self-closing, self-latching gate. This protects a child from being able to access your pool and enter it when no one is around. It also protects you from legal action by shutting your pool off to non-authorized users. Be sure to also cover and lock your hot tub when it’s not being used to protect others and to protect yourself legally.

*Safe Kids USA also recommends installing a door alarm, a window alarm or both to alert you if a child wanders into the pool area unsupervised.

*Teach your children and any young visitors that they should never, ever go near the water if an adult is not nearby and directly watching them.

*Enroll your child in swimming lessons after age 4, the group also recommends. Be sure that they know how to tread water, float and stay by the pool wall.

*Know CPR and know how to respond properly and quickly to any type of water emergency in your pool, spa or hot tub on your property.

*Don’t allow the use of bottles or glass dishware near the pool to prevent injuries.

*Don’t allow anyone to run or play near the edge of the pool. Accidents can and do happen.

*Don’t allow consumption of alcohol or drugs around the pool, especially for any adults who are there in a supervisory role with children.

*Use non-slip materials on the surfaces around the pool to prevent accidental falls into the pool.

*Use a properly-sized pool cover when the pool is unoccupied as another layer of protection from accidental drownings.

*Be sure that anyone who gets into the pool knows how to swim and understands you safety rules.

*Check local pool safety requirements in your town and be sure that you adhere to them to limit your legal liability.

*Equip your pool with proper handrails and ladders at each end for safe entry and exit from the pool.

*If you have a diving board, be sure that the pool is sufficiently deep to protect from serious diving injuries.

*Mark water depths on the sides of the pool so visitors understand how deep it is and can stay within their comfort levels.

*Constantly check for damaged fasteners, protruding bolts and other safety issues that could cause injuries to protect your legal interests.

*Have needed safety equipment on hand by the pool, including life preservers, rescue ropes and a first aid kit, and be sure you are trained in using them all.

Not all accidents and incidents happen at home, however. If you are visiting a pool that is maintained by another individual or a business, you need to understand your legal rights if you are injured due to improper maintenance, facilities or other problems.

Meanwhile, there are other dangers in pools, including entrapments – where a person is trapped by the powerful suction of an underwater pool drain that prevents them from surfacing and getting air.

According to the CPSC, from 1999 to 2009, there were 94 reports of pool, spa or whirlpool entrapment incidents that left 12 people dead and injured another 79. About 75% of those victims were under 15 years of age and 50% of the cases involved swimming pools. The victims died or were injured due to broken or missing outlet covers on the drains, which allowed them to be held against the drain underwater due to the pressure of the draining water from which they could not escape.

Such tragedies led in 2007 to the passage of the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (P&SS Act), named for a little girl who died in such an accident in 2002 in a hot tub. Virginia Graeme Baker was the granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III. The law, which went into effect in December of 2008, mandated new requirements for pool and spa safety and led to the national promotion of pool safety efforts.

This past March, the CPSC issued a press release describing how some pool drain covers that were believed to comply with the P&SS Act might have been improperly tested, leading users of some drain covers to have covers that might not have an adequate level of protection. The investigation into the improper testing is continuing.

“The CPSC is working to ensure that the public is not endangered by unsafe drain covers in pools and spas,” the agency said in the press release. Gravity drainage systems and large, unblockable drain covers are not part of this investigation.

“CPSC urges pool and spa owners to contact their service providers and product manufacturers for additional information on the testing and certification of drain covers” in the meantime, the agency said. “Heightened caution should always be exercised by pool operators, parents and caregivers in keeping children away from pool and spa drains and other openings. The risk to swimmers from a non-compliant drain cover is greatest in shallow kiddie pools, wading pools, or pools or spas with single main drain systems.”

Just last month, a Connecticut pool contractor pleaded guilty to a charge of criminally negligent homicide – a misdemeanor – in connection with the 2007 death of a six-year-old boy who died in a pool entrapment incident, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal this week. The boy, Zachary Cohn, was entrapped underwater by a drain in the pool the contractor installed at the boy’s home.

The contractor, David Lionetti, the president of a Stamford, Conn.-based pool company, was originally charged with manslaughter after his company “failed to install a required safety device” that would have shut off the pump if a person or object were caught in the drain, the story reported.

The case highlights some of the critical legal issues involving swimming pools and safety.

If you or someone in your family is injured in a swimming pool accident or incident, the skilled and compassionate personal injury attorneys here at MyPhillyLawyer are available to help you and discuss your case and legal options.

Be safe, be careful and enjoy the upcoming summer season.

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