Like any other business, waterparks and municipal pools are subject to the occasional break-in. But unlike other businesses, these break-ins can sometimes lead to injury or even death.
WSB-TV Atlanta recently reported that Daquavious Middlebrooks, a 19-year-old male, drowned in an Atlanta city pool. He and his friends had broken into the facility after hours. Middlebrooks jumped into the pool, but did not know how to swim. While his mother did not place blame on the pool facility, she did call for better security at city pools.
Break-ins have even occurred for what may be the sole purpose of posting the incident on the internet.The Miami Herald recently reported that Logan Brooke Larrimore and Farren Marie Lane, each 18, were arrested and charged with third-degree burglary after a woman reported that she received several Snapchat videos showing the teens trespassing at Myrtle Waves Water Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
And last year a young man posted his attempt to break into a waterpark on YouTube. The video, titled 24 Hour Overnight in Waterpark, features Alex Rai, a young man based in London, and his friends attempting to spend 24 hours in a waterpark that’s part of a health club without getting caught by security.
Owners of public pools and waterparks generally are not held liable for injuries or deaths that occur after a facility has been closed and secured for the night. However, there are exceptions to the rule, said Shawn DeRosa, attorney and owner of DeRosa Aquatic Consulting. If it can be proven that a landowner had knowledge of ongoing after-hours use of a facility and did nothing to address the issue, they could be found liable if an incident occurs in some states, Derosa said.
One such case recently occurred in a Massachusetts public pool. Teens regularly used wire cutters to gain entry into the pool at night. The management was aware of the situation, but failed to make regular and timely repairs to the fence. Consequently, several teens gained entry in the pool through the compromised fence and one fatally drowned.
“This case was settled out of court by a compelling argument that was made by the plaintiff that the pool owner (the city) did not act reasonably by checking the fence daily and making immediate repairs,” said John Fletemeyer, executive director of the Aquatic Law and Safety Institute.
“The courts view water as an attractive nuisance,” he added. “Consequently, owners and management must take measures to prevent trespassing, especially among children and young teens. This is based on a legal concept of what is ‘foreseeable.’ It is foreseeable that children and teens will ignore trespassing signs and swim when a facility is closed.”
In addition to signs, an industry-accepted response is to provide a barrier fence meeting certain physical standards (e.g. a height exceeding 48 inches), Fletemeyer said. Most facilities, including public pools, establish barrier fences that significantly exceed this height. Some may even go so far as placing barbed wire at the top.
But if barbed wire seems a little harsh, DeRosa recommends that aquatics operators ensure that pool closing procedures are strictly followed and documented daily, including verifying that all guests and staff have left the premises and all entry points have been secured and locked.
"If there is evidence of after-hours use of a pool, it would be prudent to involve local police in attempting to visibly patrol the pool overnight and take action if trespassers are identified," he said. DeRosa also recommended installing motion-detector lights and/or audible alarms to serve as a deterrent to would-be trespassers.