Children and swimming pool tragedies
Kids and swimming pools are a delightful part of summer. This time of year I am often reminded of the pleasant memories of taking my two offspring to the neighborhood pool to play in the water with their friends. Memories of many neighborhood swim meets at the end of sweltering days. I never dreamed that those competitions between teams of young children from subdivision swim & tennis clubs in Sandy Springs would eventually lead to one of my little darlings becoming a triathlete.
But each summer the joy of pool play is accompanied by tragedy. The case that led me to switch from insurance defense to plaintiff’s practice over two decades ago involved a toddler who suffered profound irreversible brain damage due to anoxia (loss of oxygen to the brain) in a near drowning incident. Too often since then I have encountered cases of children drowned or, perhaps worse, victims of near drowning, in neighborhood, apartment and condominium pools.
A good starting point for parents, grandparents, apartment and motel managers, neighborhood swim club managers and others concerned about the safety of children around swimming pools is the Consumer Product Safety Commission Pool Safety website.
Most tragic accidents involving children at pools could be prevented if these rules promulgated by the CPSC were followed:
Have the Appropriate Equipment for Your Pool or Spa
Because humans are not perfect, it is important to install safety measures that can prevent tragedy even when people are momentarily inattentive.
- Install a four-foot or taller fence around the pool and spa and use self-closing and self-latching gates; ask your neighbors to do the same at their pools.
- Install and use a lockable safety cover on your spa.
- If your house serves as a fourth side of a fence around a pool, install door alarms and always use them. For additional protection, install window guards on windows facing pools or spas.
- Install pool and gate alarms to alert you when children go near the water
- Ensure any pool and spa you use has compliant drain covers, and ask your pool service provider if you do not know
- Maintain pool and spa covers in good working order
- Consider using a surface wave or underwater alarm
Stay Close, Be Alert and Watch Children in and Around the Pool
- Never leave a child unattended in a pool or spa and always watch your child when he or she is in or near water
- Teach children basic water safety tips
- Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments
- Have a telephone close by when you or your family is using a pool or spa
- If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool or spa first
- Share safety instructions with family, friends and neighbors
Learn and Practice Water Safety Skills
- Learn how to swim and teach your child how to swim
- Learn to perform CPR on children and adults, and update those skills regularly
- Understand the basics of life-saving so that you can assist in a pool emergency
That first near-drowning case that I handled involved a toddler slipping away from her mom, who was distracted feeding a newborn sibling on the bad deck of their rented condo. In just an instant, her mom turned around and the 19-month-old was gone. The mom instinctively started searching in the direction of the child’s playmate’s home rather than the closed pool. Meanwhile, the child was able to gain access to the gated and locked pool because the gravity latch was low enough for her to reach, and the chain wrapped around the gate was so loose that she could easily slip through. She was found floating near a ball in the pool.
Fortunately for the liability case, we found a former custodian who had warned management about the inadequacy of the pool gate and latch. But the child suffered massive, irreversible brain damage. Though she was a beautiful kid who looked amazingly like my own daughter, for the rest of her life it was as if the lights were on but nobody was home. The fact that we were able to recover funds sufficient to care for her for life was cold comfort to all who knew and loved her.
Although the CPSC has disseminated suggested rules governing pool enclosures for at least 22 years, and some of those have been adopted by local governments around the country, I still see motels, apartment complexes, etc. that have the old gravity latches on pool gates — easily opened by any small child who slips away from parents. Those are tragedies waiting to happen.