Summer is a magical time for children. At the top of every child’s list of favorite activities is being able to go swimming on a beautiful sunny summer afternoon. However, this fun filled activity can be a complete nightmare for parents. The thought of one’s young child accidentally falling into a pool and drowning has resulted in many young parents staying clear of homes with in ground or above ground pools.
One recent incident in Chapmansboro, Tennessee, involved a two year old little girl who wandered away from her mother while visiting at a friend’s home. The child somehow found her way to the pool and fell in. The child was rushed to Vanderbilt Medical Center via Life Flight helicopter. Sadly, the child was not able to recuperate and passed away two days after the ordeal.
In hopes of avoiding such incidents, the Tennessee Legislature recently passed a bill that would require all new swimming pools be equipped with an alarm. Specifically, the bill requires residential swimming pools installed after next Jan. 1 to have a motion-detecting pool alarm. It does not apply to pools installed before that date.
The Tennessee State Statute says that when an electrical inspection is required for the installation of a pool, the inspector may not give final approval for the electrical wiring unless a properly functioning swimming pool alarm has been installed. A violation would be punishable by a fine of up to $100 and up to $500 on second and subsequent offenses. During the House debate, legislators said there is virtually no enforcement mechanism and nothing to prevent a pool owner from removing the alarm after the initial inspection. However, I would suspect that as case law develops, that any homeowner, who is found to have removed the devise in violation of the bill, would be subject to increased liability in any civil suit arising from an accident involving a guest or an unsuspecting subsequent homeowner.
The bill designates the act as “Katie Beth’s Law,” named after Katie Beth Maynard, 17-month-old granddaughter of state Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Cookeville, and the bill’s Senate sponsor. The toddler drowned last June in an above-ground pool in the backyard of her home when she apparently slipped briefly out of her mother’s and brother’s view.
So what exactly is a swimming pool alarm?
An evaluation of swimming pool alarms conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in 2000 tested three different types of pool alarms: surface wave sensors, subsurface disturbance sensors, and a wristband sensor. Surface wave sensors float on the surface of the water. Subsurface disturbance sensors attach to the side of the pool, and a portion of the sensor is submerged below the water’s surface. The wristband sensor is worn by the child and the alarm sounds if the sensor goes underwater, however, this form of alarm is specifically excluded from the bill recently passed in Tennessee and does not satisfy the requirements of the law.
The CPSC’s study included many different tests of each type of alarm in 6 backyard swimming pools of various styles and shapes. The goals of the study were “to determine whether the surface and subsurface wave sensors would alarm when a test object entered the pool, and to determine whether the wristband would alarm when exposed to pool water.” Additionally, the study tested for false alarms that that possibly might go off inadvertently due to weather such as wind and rain, and those that may be triggered by an object such as a volleyball or large pool float.
According to the results of the CPSC study, the surface wave sensors performed less positively as the subsurface disturbance sensors when a test object was thrown into the pool. The study concludes that subsurface disturbance sensors “were more consistent in alarming and less likely to false alarm than the surface alarms.” The wristband sensor sounded an alarm each time it was submerged in pool water and each time it was exposed to other water sources, such as that from a faucet or hose.
The CPSC study did not include tests of infrared motion detection alarms, which are another type of swimming pool alarm system. Infrared motion detection systems routinely set of an alarm when a child, adult, or object enters the beam path that surrounds the pool. Some alarm systems include a subsurface disturbance sensor in addition to the motion detection feature to increase the level of protection.
It is estimated that the addition of an alarm on new pools will add anywhere from $50 to $200 on the cost of a pool, a small price to pay to help safeguard Tennessee’s children from accidental drowning.
The question remains whether it would be negligent for a homeowner not to have an alarm or enclosure around their swimming pool regardless of any statutory requirement? Considering the inherently dangerous nature a swimming pool can pose to a small child, any homeowner who routinely has small children at their home, either as guests or residences, or who are aware of neighborhood children that may have access to the swimming pool, then it could be argued that their failure to install adequate safety measures on the pool would be negligent both socially and legally. Of course the exact extent of said negligence and any resulting liability would be fact specific and could vary greatly from case to case. Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to evaluate you case if such a tragedy were to occur.