Drowning Death Lawyer
If a loved one drowned in a swimming pool accident,
you may be able to sue for damages. We can help.
In 2019, Florida ranked sixth in the U.S. among states with the highest number of accidental drowning deaths. From 2017 to 2019, the state ranked number one with the most unintentional drowning deaths among children up to age nine. Drowning accidents leave families grieving and communities wondering how the accident might have been prevented. While victims’ families mourn the loss of a loved one, they are also tasked with making very important legal decisions. A Tampa drowning accident lawyer can help victims’ families file the necessary claims to receive compensation for expenses related to their loved one’s death.
Drowning accidents in the Tampa area
Drowning accidents can take place in virtually any setting in which water is present. These accidents commonly happen in:
- residential swimming pools
- hotel pools
- cruise ship pools
- coastal waters
Causes of Florida drowning accidents
Drowning can occur for many reasons. Nevertheless, there are certain factors that are common among Tampa drowning accident cases. Some of these factors are:
- overcrowded pool
- defective equipment
- a pool facility failed to perform safety checks
- lack of a safety barrier
- broken safety gate
- lack of lifeguard supervision
- improperly-trained pool staff
- lack of adult supervision when children are near water
Drowning accidents at Tampa swimming pools
If a drowning accident takes place in a swimming pool, the owner or manager of the pool may be liable for the victim’s death. Florida has enacted very specific laws that govern the manner in which public and private pools must be kept in the interest of preventing drowning deaths.
Florida’s public swimming pool law
Public swimming pools in Tampa and nationwide are required to comply with the Virginia Graeme Bell Federal Pool and Spa Safety Act. The federal legislation requires all public pools and spas to have an anti-entrapment drain cover and other safety devices to prevent drain-related accidents. Pool owners, managers, lifeguards, and swimming instructors are responsible for maintaining the safety of people who use public pool facilities. State law requires swimming instructors and lifeguards to be certified.
Attractive Nuisance Doctrine
The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine holds property owners legally responsible for children’s injuries caused by dangerous conditions on a property that are likely to attract children. Because children are generally very curious, they do not fully appreciate the inherent risks of dangerous conditions like abandoned equipment, trampolines, and swimming pools. Florida property owners are usually not liable if an undiscovered trespasser gets injured on their property. However, lawmakers created an exception to this part of the state’s premise liability statute by enacting the Attractive Nuisance law.
Laws for residential pool owners in Tampa
All residential outdoor swimming pools must have a secure barrier around the pool as specified by Florida’s Preston de Ibern/McKenzie Merriam Residential Pool Safety Act, also known as the Residential Pool Safety Act. The barrier may be a wall, a fence, or a combination of both. The barrier should be at least four feet tall, and it must prevent access to the pool from the residence and from the yard. Residential pools must also have a manual or power-operated cover that meets the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials. Pool owners also have the option of equipping the pool area with an alarm that sounds anytime a door or window with direct access to the pool is left open. To ensure pool owners are aware of the Safety Act, all pool contractors are legally mandated to supply each customer with a copy of the statute along with a publication on drowning prevention.
Florida does not currently have a state law that regulates the hours during which a pool may be open. Nevertheless, the pool and pool deck must be equipped with appropriate lighting to keep swimmers safe. Pool operators must also apply for a permit to allow night swimming at their facility. Florida law requires a lighting inspection prior to issuing a night swimming permit.
Boat-related drowning accidents
Drowning is the leading cause of death in Florida boat accidents. People who fall overboard are often know how to swim. Nevertheless, the water condition, the boat propeller, and other hazards can make it more difficult for an individual to swim safely in a boat accident. In these situations, the operator of the boat may be liable. Speeding, boating under the influence, distracted boating, and not keeping a proper lookout are a few examples of negligent behaviors that contribute to boating accidents. The boat operator is also responsible for requiring all parties on board to wear a lifejacket. If another boat negligently causes a collision that results in a drowning accident, the other boat operator would be liable for the victim’s death.
Intoxication as a factor in drowning accidents
It is not uncommon for people to consume alcohol or abuse drugs while in close proximity to water. Drinks are often served at pool parties. Party hosts are permitted to serve alcohol to guests. However, the host has a responsibility to ensure guests who are too intoxicated do not have access to the pool.
In drowning accidents that occur while boating, the boat operator may be liable if he or she is under the influence of alcohol. Not only is boating while under the influence of drugs or alcohol a criminal offense in Florida, but the operator is responsible for maintaining safe conditions on the boat. Alcohol and drugs impair a boat operator’s ability to keep a sufficient lookout, follow navigational rules, and avoid potential hazards. Passengers also sometimes drink or do drugs before or during boat rides. In some cases, the boat operator may be liable even if he or she has not engaged in alcohol use or drug abuse. Boat operators are encouraged to ensure all passengers are wearing a life jacket. If a boat operator observes a passenger drinking or doing drugs, the operator may be responsible if he or she allows an intoxicated passenger to enter the water to swim.
Commercially-owned boats that serve alcohol on board may be legally responsible for a drowning death if the boat staff allows the intoxicated individual to swim in an onboard swimming pool or to be unsupervised in an area that places the individual at risk of going overboard.
Liability in Tampa swimming pool accidents
Depending on the facts surrounding the accident, several people may be liable for a drowning accident. A public pool or community pool owner or operator may be responsible if the pool does not have mandatory safety equipment or properly-trained staff when required. Parents or other adults may be liable if they are responsible for watching a child who drowns as a result of lack of supervision. A pool contractor or manufacturer may be responsible for injuries caused by an accident that is the result of defective or improperly-installed equipment.
Injuries in Tampa drowning cases
Most people think of death as the main injury in drowning accidents. However, near-drowning accidents can cause severe injuries including brain damage and paralysis. Accident victims in near-drowning cases commonly require care around the clock as a result of their injury. Tampa civil courts also recognize the emotional injury the victims’ are likely to experience as a result of the victim’s death or severe injury.
Types of compensation in Tampa drowning cases
Victims’ families in drowning cases may receive several different types of compensation. Surviving family members may receive compensation for medical and funeral expenses. A civil court may also award surviving family members compensation for mental pain and suffering for the loss of their loved one. If the drowning accident victim is an adult, survivors may receive compensation for:
- loss of financial support
- loss of companionship
- loss of parental guidance
- loss of support and services
Although children generally do not have earned income, courts do award compensation to child victims’ surviving parents. Courts consider the following factors in calculating award amounts for surviving parents of minor child victims:
- the child’s age
- health habits
- dxpected lifespan
- potential earnings
- work capacity
Calculating award amounts for younger children is more difficult than for older children. Courts consider the child’s academic performance, skills, and general trajectory to determine the amount of support the child may have been able to contribute to the parents in the future.
Establishing a civil case following a drowning accident
Florida’s laws outline the elements a drowning accident victim’s attorney must establish to prove negligence. The plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer must prove:
- the defendant had a duty to protect the safety of the victim
- the defendant breached the duty
- the accident victim drowned as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty
- the breach of duty caused the victim’s injury or death
Proving the defendant’s duty
The accident victim’s attorney must prove the defendant owed the victim a duty to maintain reasonably safe conditions. For example, a hotel does not necessarily have a duty to provide a lifeguard at its pool. However, the hotel does have a duty to prevent children from accessing the pool without supervision. If the hotel does provide a lifeguard, it is the hotel’s duty to ensure the lifeguard is trained according to state law. Identifying and proving a defendant’s duty can be complicated. An experienced personal injury attorney can more easily determine duty in negligence cases.
Proving breach of duty
Once the plaintiff’s lawyer establishes the defendant owed the accident victim a duty, the attorney must prove the defendant breached the duty. Establishing a breach is based on proving the defendant’s conduct was unreasonable. For example, if a hotel pool has an adequate safety barrier and posted signs warning that a lifeguard is not on duty, the court is unlikely to find the hotel breached its duty if an adult guest enters the pool late at night, after the pool’s open hours, and drowns. The victim’s attorney is unlikely to prevail by arguing the hotel is liable because there was no lifeguard on duty. The presence of a lifeguard likely would have prevented the accident. However, in the example, the victim entered the pool after hours, and there was a sign posted warning pool guests that there is no lifeguard on duty.
There must be a proximate cause between the breach of duty and the defendant’s injury or death. If a child drowns at a pool facility during a swimming lesson, establishing the swimming instructor was uncertified at the time of the accident, the court is likely to find a proximate cause between the uncertified teacher and the child’s death. For example, if an intoxicated guest drowns while horseplaying on a cruise ship, the victim’s attorney is less likely to prevail if he or she argues the victim’s death was caused by the absence of slip-resistant flooring around the pool.
Proving damages is rarely an issue in drowning accident cases as long as the claim is filed on behalf of the decedent’s family members. Because drowning accidents are wrongful death cases, Florida requires a personal representative to file the claim on behalf of the victim’s surviving relatives. Nevertheless, the victim’s loss of life is considered a damage in wrongful death cases. Medical expenses, funeral expenses, and emotional pain and suffering are damages surviving family members may claim. In near-drowning cases, the victim’s ongoing medical expenses, physical and emotional pain and suffering are also damages.
Drowning accident cases consist of many parts. The plaintiff must identify the liable party and prove the four elements of the negligence case. A Tampa personal injury lawyer can represent surviving family members in a drowning case and navigate Florida’s complex personal injury laws on behalf of the victim and the victim’s family. Our lawyer is available to provide a free case evaluation. Contact us today, and allow us to provide legal counsel and representation during a critical time for your family.