New Federal and State Laws Attempt to Reduce Swimming Pool Drownings

Summer always seems to fill newspapers and news reports with heart wrenching stories of young children drowning in their family’s or a neighbors swimming pool. On Long Island through July 14 of this year there have been six residential swimming pool drownings, including three children younger than 4. Accidental drownings in swimming pools and spas are most commonly caused by falling into an unsupervised pool or by the child being entrapped by a drain/suction outlet.

Both New York State and the federal government have recently passed important swimming pool and spa safety laws, violations of which can be used to help establish negligence in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

Drowning is the leading cause of accidental injury-related death for children aged 1 to 4 years. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths in children between the ages of one and 14 nationwide, and the third leading cause of injury-related deaths of children in New York. In New York State, only traffic accidents cause more accidental injury-related deaths for children 1 to 14 years in age.

Effective June 13, 2008, any swimming pool installed, constructed or substantially modified after December 14, 2006, must be equipped with a pool alarm as mandated in the N.Y.S. Title 19 – Uniform Fire Prevention & Building Code (Uniform Code). The code requires a pool alarm:
1. be capable of detecting a child entering the water;
2. sound an audible (minimum 85 decibel) alarm within 20 seconds at poolside and at an occupied location on the premises when it detects a child entering the water;
3. be capable of detecting entry into the water at any point on the surface of the swimming pool. If necessary to provide detection capability at every point on the surface of the swimming pool, more than one pool alarm must be installed;
4. not be an alarm device which is located on person(s) or which is dependent on device(s) located on person(s) for its proper operation;
5. be certified independently by a third party to verify it meets the U.S. National Standard ASTM F2208-2002 Standard Specification for Pool Alarms published by ASTM International.

A pool alarm isn’t required only if: the pool employs a power safety cover which meets the ASTM F1325 2003 Standard Performance Specification for Safety Covers and Labeling Requirements for All Covers for Swimming Pools, Spas and Hot Tubs; a hot tub or spa is equipped with a safety cover certified to the same ASTM F1325 Standard. It is also required that the shut-off or re-set button of the alarm be located by the pool. This is meant to require an adult to actually go to the pool when the alarm sounds to find out why it did.

If a child does fall into a pool, time is of the essence for a rescue in order to prevent permanent neurological damage or even death. Alarms currently available for sale that meet code employ one of two technologies:
1. Wave Action When a child falls into the pool water a wave is produced. When the wave reaches the pool alarm a built in mechanism is triggered and the alarm is sounded.
2. Active Sonar This alarm system is built into the sides of the pools walls and normally is incorporated into the design of the pool during construction. The system sends acoustic pings into the water. The pools walls, floor and water surface create a box which the pings bounce off creating a net. If the acoustic pings travel is interrupted in this net the alarm is sounded.

The federal law, The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, increases safety in residential and public swimming pools and spas. The law is named for seven-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker, the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker, who drowned after becoming entrapped by a spa drain in 2002. A drain/suction outlet can entrap a child or even an adult swimmer comes too close to an inadequately protected drain or suction outlet their hair or a limb can be sucked into the drain and they can become pinned underwater. The suction pressure is so intense that even strong swimmers can’t escape and would-be rescuers are not able to free them.

Pursuant to the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, every swimming pool and spa drain cover manufactured, distributed or entered into commerce in the U.S. after Dec. 20, 2008 must conform to the American National Standard ASME A 112.19.8 2007 Suction Fittings for Use in Swimming Pools, Wading Pools, Spas and Hot Tubs published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). This means that drain covers are to be designed and built specifically to diffuse the filters suction pressure at the drain opening. The goal is to eliminate the danger of drain entrapment.

The lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims. For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas.

If you or someone close to you has been injured in an accident, contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. To learn more, watch our videos.

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