You would not know it from the recent weather, but spring is upon us and it is time to jump into a swimming pool and enjoy the outdoors again.
If you own a pool though, you need to take a moment and make sure you are ready to provide a safe place for your family and friends — in particular children — to enjoy. Texas leads the nation in swimming pool drowning deaths. In fact, drowning is the second leading cause of death among children under 14.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three children lose their lives every day to drowning; and, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, 91 children fatally drowned in Texas in 2018 alone. Factors to look out for that will increase the risk of drowning include multiple children in and around your pool, lack of supervision, lack of barriers, and failure to properly secure the pool from unauthorized access by children.
Along with the awful tragedy of losing a human life, these types of drowning accidents will most likely lead to lawsuits against you and anyone else having an ownership interest in the property. Therefore, it is important that your pool complies with Texas law to avoid the accident itself or at least be able to avoid legal liability.
What laws do you need to comply with? Among other things, Texas law requires pool owners to have a fence surrounding the pool or yard that is at least 48 inches high with no gaps between the pickets or the ground and bottom of the fence that are more than 4 inches wide. Chain-link fences or slats that can be climbed by children are prohibited.
Additionally, there must be a lockable, self-closing and self-latching gate that is at least 48 inches high. Specific locks and alarms are required for home doors and windows that open onto an indoor or patio pool. A throwing rope of at least one-quarter inch in diameter must also be available and a reaching pole that does not conduct electricity. You should check with the city where you live to insure compliance with any applicable municipal code or ordinance.
Compliance with these statutes, codes and ordinances is important because not only will it help to avoid unfortunate accidents, but any violation will be used to prove negligence on your part as a matter of law.
You should also note that your liability is not limited to children using your pool with your permission. Texas law has adopted the attractive nuisance doctrine, which provides that property owners are liable for physical harm to children, even if they are trespassing, if there is a hazardous condition on their land (like a swimming pool) and proper steps are not taken to keep the children away from that condition (which expressly include following all statutes, codes and ordinances regarding pools).
To help you comply with such laws, it is a good idea to call a pool company that you trust and have them inspect your pool and the area surrounding it. They can often point out any potential violations and help you to remedy them. You should also contact your insurance agent and make sure you have enough coverage. Specifically, check the difference in the premium you are paying now and what it would cost if you increase the policy limits. You might be surprised that the cost between what you have and maximum coverage is incredibly small and worth increasing your policy limits.
Taking such steps, however, is only the first part of the solution to drowning prevention and protecting yourself from liability. You also need to take commonsense steps while the pool is being used. For example, make sure younger swimmers wear flotation devices — whether they want to or not. If you don’t have a person expressly dedicated to act as a lifeguard, do not do things that will cause you to be distracted or impair your ability to save a life when needed, like reading a book, playing on your cellphone or drinking alcohol. Lastly, if you have not already done so, learn CPR and take a water safety class.
By doing all of these things, you will be ready to safely enjoy your pool and build memories that will last a lifetime.