Let’s begin with a sad story… a scenario that never had to happen. Several years ago, on a Sunday afternoon, a young man invited a neighbor over to his mother’s house to help him work on a car. His neighbor came over and brought his 2 ½ year old child, who played in the front yard while the guys worked on the car in the front driveway.
The house had a swimming pool in the back yard that was surrounded by a fence with a gate. Initially, the gate was secured by a chain with a lock. A few weeks before, though, the lock was lost. Instead of replacing the lock, the owner secured the gate by wrapping the chain around the gate and the gate post.
At some point as they worked on the car, the men realized that the child was no longer playing in the front yard. After a frantic search, they found the child floating, face down, in the backyard pool. The child’s father leapt over the fence, pulled the child from the water and attempted to resuscitate him while an ambulance was called. The child was taken to the hospital where he died two days later.
A wrongful death claim was brought against the homeowner alleging that she was negligent in failing to properly provide, install, use and/or maintain the fence and gate surrounding her swimming pool and that this negligence was a proximate cause of the child’s death.
At trial, there was conflicting evidence as to whether the gate was closed and secured by the chain when they found the child. Other evidence established that the fence and gate failed to meet national and local building codes because the gate was not self-latching, and because the latch and the top fence rail were not high enough off the ground. The jury returned a verdict against the homeowner that was ultimately upheld on appeal.
What is the legal duty of a residential swimming pool owner?
Homeowners need to obtain the necessary permits from their local jurisdiction (town, city and/or county) to build and ultimately use a residential swimming pool. To obtain the necessary permits, the pool must comply with relevant building codes in its design and construction, as well as in the installation of adequate fencing around the pool and a secure gate. Most building code requirements can be found online or obtained by calling your local government.
Beyond that, Virginia law does not make a homeowner a guarantor of the safety of everyone he/she invites to her home; but it does require homeowners to use ordinary care, in other words, to act reasonably, to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition for use by visitors the homeowner invites to the property, and to warn invitees of any unsafe conditions that the pool owner knows about or should know about, unless that unsafe condition is open and obvious.
In the context of residential swimming pools, this can mean:
- If the gate lock is lost, replace it immediately;
- If the gate doesn’t latch or there’s a hole in the fence, fix it.
If you uncertain as to whether you are adequately maintaining the enclosure around your pool, call your local building inspector to come out and take a look. They’ll let you know if you need to do more.
If there are small children on your property, or children that are not strong swimmers, make absolutely sure that the pool is secure and that they cannot get in unless you want them to and an adult is present to supervise them.
What if a loved one is injured at a pool?
Personal injury cases arising from injuries at a swimming pool can be highly complex. And while legal action may be the last thing on your mind after an injury, even if you are not ready to hire an attorney, it makes sense, as soon as possible, to at least contact an experienced personal injury lawyer who can assess the facts and the evidence of your case, explain the law and your rights, and help you solve some of the problems resulting from the loss and avoid any pitfalls that might arise.
About the Bergeron Law Firm
Bergeron Law is a personal injury practice serving the Northern Virginia area. Our mission is to provide all our clients with the highest quality of legal representation and unsurpassed dedication and customer service.
Steve Bergeron understands that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on his ability to understand each client’s needs and objectives. Bergeron Law will be there for you with the information, advice, and advocacy you need to help you get back to your life.