Public Pools and the Risks You Should Know
Spending time at the local pool during the summer months is an image most people relate to from childhood. The anticipation that each kid held, while they eagerly waited for the school year to end and the public pool to open, was almost a rite of passage in some places. Public pools and water playgrounds are particularly attractive in Florida due to the long, hot and humid summers. Many of these pools are operated by local municipalities through recreation centers or park districts, and there is a general assumption that since the arm of the government runs these centers they are safe for children to swim and play. This commitment to protect visitors is reflected in the fact that the features of these facilities have changed over the years as serious injuries and repeated accidents resulted in the removal of things like high dives. Certainly most parents realize there is inherent danger with swimming and understand accidents are possible, but a recent report issued by the CDC found that there are hidden dangers in public pools that are not detectable by the naked eye. The agency looked at over 48,000 water venues across five states, including Florida, and determined that almost 80 percent had at least one hygiene or safety violation. Further, one in eight closed immediately after these inspections due to serious violations. While the CDC suggests testing the water with test strips to assess its cleanliness, what is a parent to do if his/her child becomes seriously ill after swimming in a public pool?
Holding someone responsible for an accident that occurs on private or public property is governed by the legal theory of premises liability. This area of the law says that property owners, including public property maintained by the government, have a duty to keep property in a safe condition for use by those lawfully entering it. Basically, this duty means the property owner cannot expose visitors to an unreasonable risk of injury due to unsafe conditions, construction or design. Further, those on the premises have a responsibility to use the property in the manner it was intended. Thus, as this relates to pools, public pool operators must utilize certain safety devices including anti-entrapment systems to prevent small children from being sucked to the water pump and potentially drowning. Additionally, life guards must be on duty in order for swimmers to enter the water. If a public pool fails to install, maintain or post these safety measures, and someone gets hurt, the municipality could be liable. As for the behavior of pool users, if an injury occurs after children start jumping on top of each other or diving in while standing on someone’s shoulders, it is unlikely the government would be responsible since this behavior is not in line with how the pool area is supposed to be used.
Limitations on Government Liability
State and federal governments limit the ability of their citizens and residents from filing lawsuits against them in order to protect their sovereignty and financial stability. Florida, however, does have a law that permits residents to file lawsuits in personal injury cases, but includes specific limitations on certain aspects of the extent of its potential liability. The most important aspects of these limitations include:
- the most the government will agree to pay, regardless of whether the jury award is higher, is $200,000 per claimant. Awards above this amount will only be paid if the legislature passes a bill that grants the claimant a higher amount;
- no punitive damages will be paid; and
- the time period to file a complaint is shorter than that allowed for similar suits against private individuals.
Consult a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you suffered an injury at a place owned and maintained by a governmental entity, do not assume you do not have the power to sue. Instead, talk to a personal injury to learn what your legal options may be. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado has a wealth of experience in personal injury cases, and can advise you on the merits of your case. Contact us for a free consultation.