Is There a Legal Obligation to Provide a Lifeguard at a Swimming Area in the State of Florida?

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4,000 people die from drowning in the United States each year. Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury death among all ages. In addition, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury related death among children ages one to 14, with more than 1, 5000 children killed in water accidents each year. Most drowning incidents are preventable through means such as providing lifeguards in areas where swimmers frequent and encouraging the use of such protected areas.

The decision to provide lifeguard protection can be influenced by civil liability laws, which can hold the owners of swimming areas and the lifeguards they employ responsible for fatal/ nonfatal injuries. One aspect of liability involves an act of wrongdoing or misconduct. In most states, lifeguards are expected to act within a standard of care; a variation from the standard of care may result in liability. Another aspect of liability involves the level of warnings or protection provided and the condition of the facility.

Municipalities in Florida have the choice to operate a designated swimming area at the beach; however, once they decide to operate a swimming area, they assume a common law duty to operate it safely. Florida courts will consider the following factors when determining liability for a drowning: previous knowledge of the danger, the presence of lifeguards and the adequacy of warnings.

Usually, a private Florida landowner, such as a hotel owner, does not have a duty to post lifeguards on public beaches or warn guests of possible dangers. However, if the hotel designates the beach as a swimming area, it assumes the duty to provide adequate safety precautions. In addition, even if a swimming area is not designated, the landowner may still have a duty to operate it safely in accordance with local ordinances or contractual agreements with beach vendors.

It is clear that lifeguards can significantly reduce the number of drowning related deaths and injuries in Jacksonville as well as other States. As such, the laws which encourage the use of lifeguards can enhance public safety. For more information on this topic, see the legal implications of providing lifeguard protection.