A drowning death at a Northern Virginia waterpark emphasizes the importance of ensuring that young children using public pools receive special attention. While no criminal neglect or endangerment charges are likely to be filed, the waterpark owner, lifeguards and adults who had responsibility for guaranteeing the safety of the deceased 2-year-old boy may be held accountable for negligence and made to settle insurance claims or pay civil wrongful death damages.
News reports of the tragedy that began on June 15, 2015, when the child was discovered unconscious at the bottom of the commercial pool at Pohick Bay Regional Bay in Lorton, VA, and ended at a hospital four days later, contain no details on why caregivers lost track of the toddler and allowed him to slip under the water without resurfacing. Children too young to swim should never go into a pool unattended, and lifeguards should remain on constant watch for youngsters in distress. Television station WJLA notes that adults only discovered the 2 year old when the pool was evacuated as a thunderstorm approached. No one knew how long the child had gone without air.
The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission counted 164 child drownings during the summer of 2014, with five occurring in Virginia. It is too early to know whether 2015 will prove as deadly, but the number of preventable deaths will surely not fall to zero. The agency recommends swimming lessons, fences and learning CPR as ways to save children's lives. The best precaution, however, remains ensuring that all kids swim and splash under the watchful eyes of adults.
When drownings and near-drownings do happen, questions always arise over who can be held responsible. Legally, those issues get resolved according to the rules of premises liability, which often gets called slip and fall because many of the court cases involve injuries and deaths resulting from tripping or getting struck by falling objects.
Pool owners hold some the greatest potential liability under premises liability because they have the best opportunities to restrict access, install and maintain safety devices, and ensure the presence of well-trained lifeguards. Any adults who were not the drowned toddler's parents could also bear liability if evidence shows that they acted in negligent ways that put the child at risk, The take-home lesson does not concern any point of insurance law, however. The real message is that pools can be deadly dangerous and everyone must protect children.