Pool Safety Subject of New Federal Law

On December 16th, we posted a blog entry regarding the new the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (“Act”). The Act is a federal law that took effect December 20, 2008. It requires owners of “public” pools (the Act refers to spas as well) with submerged suction drains to retrofit the drains in order to limit and prevent drowning deaths caused by people becoming ensnared in a pool’s drain.

The Act defines “public” to include multi-family residential dwelling common areas and their (community) associations.

This new law has created a lot of controversy as many California community associations debate whether compliance is required or not, as this is a federal and not state law. Perhaps the real issues here are the potential risk of injury to children and others that use the pool or spa and potential exposure to the Association. As this new law impacts community associations, it is a big issue. It was the subject of a January 20, 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal. It has been reported that some boards of directors at community associations are delaying the appropriate retrofits because they believe that no one is really going to penalize their association for not taking the appropriate action. While it is true that no governmental authorities are (at least as of going to cite or penalize an association for not complying with the new law, and while it is likely that most associations’ insurance carriers will defend and indemnify associations from injury claims, those insurance carriers will not indemnify the association or the individual board members if they are sued for intentional wrongdoing (knowing of the danger and the new law and intentionally deciding not to take action). As the Wall Street Journal article points out (quoting an official with State Farm insurance): (community associations that keep their pools open and do not retrofit) “will probably have a more difficult time proving they are not liable.”

Our advice: retrofit as soon as possible and in the meantime, either close (empty?) the pool. It may be appropriate to post notices and disclose the issue and potential danger to the owners and residents. And just so we are clear, posting notices and disclosing the situation may not necessarily insulate the board or the association for potential liability if the pool remains open. Be careful out there!

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