Our community is having difficulty finding lifeguards to staff the pools this summer. How can we minimize liability if we choose the “swim-at-your-own-risk” approach?
Swimming pools are considered an “attractive nuisance” under Florida law. That means you have liability every time someone uses the pool or enters the pool area, no matter what arrangement you make. Someone could be injured or drown at a time outside of the lifeguard’s shift, and realistically outside of hours of operation for the pool.
Is requiring a lifeguard mentioned in the governing documents or the developer’s sales materials as part of the original amenities, or was that something that came later? If so, the law provides that listed amenities for condominiums require 100% membership approval to eliminate. If not, then the board can make the change. If your community is not a condominium, look at any approval required in the governing documents before making changes to services.
Let residents know the board is working on a change to its lifeguard requirement by holding a meeting. Get as much input as you can before you make the final decision. If many more people want to keep a lifeguard than the number who want to eliminate the position, that is important information for the board. If the board ends up keeping the lifeguard position, check with the local Red Cross as they may provide lifeguard training and certification and have a referral program if the community is struggling to find candidates.
However, if the lifeguard position is eliminated, a large sign needs to be posted at the pool noting that there is no lifeguard and pool use is “swim at your own risk.” A written notice should be sent to all owners and residents that the change is going into effect on a certain date.
Finally, consult with the association’s insurance professional to determine that there is sufficient coverage if the association does eliminate the lifeguard position. Ensure the pool and the deck areas are always well-maintained and clear of hazards. Generally, there are more claims because of slips and falls at the pool area than for drownings.
Liability cannot be avoided completely in case the community decides to eliminate lifeguards at the pool, but the association can be protected against the financial impact of future claims. Remember to reach out to the association’s attorney for any other concerns.
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