Poet Robert Frost wrote that “fences make good neighbors” in the early 1900’s but his simple instruction still has applications to living in urban areas today.
Suppose you decide to forego your summer vacation trip this year and instead buy an above-ground pool for your backyard. Your kids love to swim, having taken lessons at the local Park District as small children, and your wife has completed a Red Cross Water Safety Instruction course. While the pool poses little issues for your family, you cannot be sure that the other children in the neighborhood will be as equally prepared for the potential risk or hazard that it provides.
Cook County requires a permit for above ground pools 18 inches or deeper; other municipalities have similar laws or ordinances. Among the list of Cook County requirements is that the pool must be enclosed on all four sides by a 4 feet high non-climbable fence. The permit requirements, often considered somewhat onerous by home owners, were designed to meet one of the primary legal concerns a swimming pool poses: that of being an attractive nuisance. If anything on your property could both draw children into it while also potentially putting them in harm’s way, the law requires you to protect any children who may come onto your property, even if they are legally trespassing. The attractive nuisance doctrine says that children cannot be expected to understand the inherent dangers they face and, if a property owner believes that children might come onto their property, it is the property owner’s responsibility to prevent harm. If an owner does not meet this responsibility, they can be held liable for the child’s injuries.
Swimming pools cause 300 drowning deaths a year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. You are not required to childproof your property, but use common sense. Take some basic precautions to prevent injuries and limit your liabilities. If you see that neighborhood children are interested in something on your property, consider installing an audible alarm which detects movement in or around the pool. While a pool cover may keep debris from the pool, it will not necessarily stop a determined child. Make sure you have rescue equipment on hand. Don’t leave swimming pool toys, floats or other pool equipment lying around. Learn basic CPR and instruct all visitors about methods for preventing accidental drowning. Never assume that guests can swim or that a flotation device prevents all risk of drowning. Review your property insurance to make sure your coverage has adequate liability insurance to cover any potential accident that may occur in or around the pool.
Swimming pools can provide hours of fun and pleasure on summer days. Make sure that your pool is an asset, not a liability, by providing proper fencing and following basic safety measures. And remember, fences make good neighbors, not by walling them out but by walling in a pool.