Preventing Unnecessary Drowning in Florida’s Pools

Written by: Allan L. Ziffra, Esq.


With miles of accessible beaches, beautiful sun and long summer months, there isn’t much question as to why Daytona Beach is known as  “The World’s Most Famous Beach”.  For those individuals not privy to swimming in the ocean, however, these same factors also make Florida the perfect location for enjoying time in the sun in a swimming pool.

With more than a million swimming pools bought by business and home owners alike, Florida is home to more pools than any other state in the U.S. It is not surprising, then, that many children suffer accidental deaths every year in Florida from drowning in a swimming pool.

Pool Drowning Statistics

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, there are approximately 1,900 swimming pool-related drowning deaths in the United States each year.  Of this number, over 300 children accidentally drown each year in swimming pools, all under the age of five.

Although drowning accidents do occur in public pools that are supervised by lifeguards, most fatalities occur at residential pools.  According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission:

¨      53% of drowning fatalities occur In the pool at the victim’s home

¨      19% of drowning fatalities occur in the pool of a family member or close family friend

¨      12% of drowning fatalities occur at undisclosed locations

¨      8% of drowning fatalities occur at community or commercial pools

¨      81% of drowning fatalities occur in in-the-ground pools

¨      In over 66% of deaths involving children under the age of 5, the child was last seen inside the house and was most likely to be under the care of one or both parents who were engaged in some type of routine activity

¨      Access to the pool in 71% of cases was a door leading from the house to the pool area

¨      Unintentional drowning of children in the State of Florida between the ages of one and four is 186% higher than the national average

Florida Swimming Pool Statutes

Below are a few statutes that the Florida legislature passed in response to the high number of child drowning fatalities.

F.S. §515.23 – In order to combat the growing number of drowning deaths for children in the State of Florida, the Florida Legislature passed F.S.§515.23 which states:

The legislature finds that drowning is the leading cause of deaths of young children in this state and is also a significant cause of death from medically frail elderly persons in this state, that constant adult supervision is the key to accomplishing the objective of reducing the number of submersion incidents, and that when lapses in supervision occur, a pool safety feature designed to deny, delay, or detect unsupervised entry to the swimming pool, spa, or hot tub will reduce drowning and near drowning incidents.  In addition to the incalculable human cost of these submersion incidents, the health care costs, loss of lifetime productivity, and legal and administrative expenses associated with drowning of young children and medically frail elderly persons in this state each year and the lifetime cost for the care and treatment of young children who have suffered brain disability due to near drowning incidents each year are enormous.  Therefore, it is the intent of the legislature that all new residential swimming pools, spas and hot tubs be equipped with at least pool safety feature as specified in this chapter.

F.S. §515.27 – The Florida Legislature went on to pass F.S. §515.27, the Residential Swimming Pool Safety Feature Options; Penalties. This statute states:

(1) In order to pass final inspection and receive a certificate of completion, a residential swimming pool must meet at least one of the following requirements relating to pool safety features:

  • (a) The pool must be isolated from access to a home by an enclosure that meets the pool barrier requirements of s. 515.29;
  • (b) The pool must be equipped with an approved safety pool cover;
  • (c) All doors and windows providing direct access from the home to the pool must be equipped with an exit alarm that has a minimum sound pressure rating of 85 dB A at 10 feet; or
  • (d) All doors providing direct access from the home to the pool must be equipped with a self-closing, self-latching device with a release mechanism placed no lower than 54 inches above the floor.

(2) A person who fails to equip a new residential swimming pool with at least one pool safety feature as required in subsection (1) commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083, except that no penalty shall be imposed if the person, within 45 days after arrest or issuance of a summons or a notice to appear, has equipped the pool with at least one safety feature as required in subsection (1) and has attended a drowning prevention education program established by s. 515.31. However, the requirement of attending a drowning prevention education program is waived if such program is not offered within 45 days after issuance of the citation.

This statute is designed to reduce the number of child drowning fatalities by making it more difficult for children to exit a home and gain access to a pool without the supervising adult being aware of it.

Chapter 515.29 – In order to reduce the chances of children gaining access to a pool from a yard, the Florida Legislature passed Chapter 515.29, Residential Swimming Pool Barrier Requirements:

(1) A residential swimming pool barrier must have all of the following characteristics:

  • (a) The barrier must be at least 4 feet high on the outside.
  • (b) The barrier may not have any gaps, openings, indentations, protrusions, or structural components that could allow a young child to crawl under, squeeze through, or climb over the barrier.
  • (c) The barrier must be placed around the perimeter of the pool and must be separate from any fence, wall, or other enclosure surrounding the yard unless the fence, wall, or other enclosure or portion thereof is situated on the perimeter of the pool, is being used as part of the barrier, and meets the barrier requirements of this section.
  • (d) The barrier must be placed sufficiently away from the water’s edge to prevent a young child or medically frail elderly person who may have managed to penetrate the barrier from immediately falling into the water.

(2) The structure of an aboveground swimming pool may be used as its barrier or the barrier for such a pool may be mounted on top of its structure; however, such structure or separately mounted barrier must meet all barrier requirements of this section. In addition, any ladder or steps that are the means of access to an aboveground pool must be capable of being secured, locked, or removed to prevent access or must be surrounded by a barrier that meets the requirements of this section.

(3) Gates that provide access to swimming pools must open outward away from the pool and be self-closing and equipped with a self-latching locking device, the release mechanism of which must be located on the pool side of the gate and so placed that it cannot be reached by a young child over the top or through any opening or gap.

(4) A wall of a dwelling may serve as part of the barrier if it does not contain any door or window that opens to provide access to the swimming pool.

(5) A barrier may not be located in a way that allows any permanent structure, equipment, or similar object to be used for climbing the barrier.

This statute is designed to make access to a pool limited by any child, regardless of whether or not they live at the particular home.  It provides for minimum specifications for fences or gates that will prevent access to the pool for young children who are at risk of drowning.

A Pool Owner’s Responsibility

Pool owners are responsible to ensure that their pools are safe for their families, guests and neighborhood children by complying with the requirements of F.S. §515.27 and F.S. §515.29.  A property owner may be found liable for damages in the event of a swimming pool drowning or near drowning if they fail to comply with Florida’s pool safety laws.

Ways to Prevent Drowning Deaths

Most drowning deaths are preventable if pool owners take proactive steps to keep their pool area safe and well guarded from children.  The Florida Swimming Pool Association encourages safety for all pool owners.  They provide the following acronym for safety to remember some important tips:

¨      S is for supervision – children need to be constantly supervised

¨      A is for alert – watch for dangers in and around the pool

¨      F is for free from substances

¨      E is for emergency education – get trained with CPR and emergency rescue

¨      T is for teaching

¨      Y is for you – you are responsible for your pool

Why Would I Need an Attorney?

When someone drowns or suffers any kind of injury on or around a swimming pool, a complete investigation of the incident starts with the pool owner’s compliance with F.S. §515.27 and §515.29 mentioned previously.  Often, tough questions need to be considered in order to find who is liable for a person’s injuries, such as: Did the property owner have a fence around the pool, or gates or doors properly secured? Were access alarms installed and properly functioning?  Was the pool covered?  Was the water drain on the pool properly protected?

In order to get these questions properly answered and determine whether or not there is legal responsibility on behalf of a pool owner for a drowning or near drowning injury, an individual may want to talk to an attorney knowledgeable in personal injury claims. At Rue & Ziffra, P.A., we have a staff of 9 attorneys who handle multiple areas of personal injury, including claims of swimming pool injuries and accidental drowning. We have over 25 years of combined experience helping individuals who have been wronged by someone else’s negligent behavior.

Rue & Ziffra, P.A., proudly serves areas in and around Volusia County and Flagler County, Florida, including, Port Orange, Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Edgewater, Ormond Beach, Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, DeLand, Deltona, Bunnell, Orange City, Sanford, Orlando and Leesburg.

The above entry is NOT LEGAL ADVICE and should not be intended or construed as such. It is intended only as general information. No individual reading it should act upon it. Reading this entry does not create any relationship between Rue & Ziffra, P.A. and individuals reading it. If you have questions or concerns, please seek professional legal counsel.


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About the author

Allan L. Ziffra is a founding partner and President of Rue & Ziffra, P.A. Connect with Allan Ziffra onGoogle+ or Find us on Google+

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