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John Bisnar
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4-year-old Orange County girl drowns in backyard pool

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Eighteen Orange County children have drowned this year.

It was a crowded pool at a birthday party in a Villa Park home. It was a perfect day for a party – warm and sunny. There were plenty of kids in the pool and even more adults standing around the pool watching them. But not one of those kids or adults noticed 4-year-old Aurora Pruitt of Moreno Valley slip underwater and drown in the shallow end of the pool, according to an article in The Orange County Register.

The article states that there were as many as 15 children in the pool ranging in age from 3 to 16 years old. According to the report, five adults were watching the children. They made the horrible discovery at lunch time when all the children got out of the pool except for little Aurora. A parent who saw her at the bottom of the shallow end of the pool, pulled her out and tried to resuscitate her, but didn’t succeed. Paramedics rushed her first to Chapman Medical Center and later to Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange, where she died just after 9 p.m. Tuesday.

According to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, 18 children under the age of 18 have drowned in Orange County since January and nine of those children who drowned were under 13 years of age.

These are truly alarming numbers for Orange County. Drowning is the leading cause of death for young children in Orange County and California where backyard pools are the norm rather than the exception. Pools are a great resource and a pool parties are a great activity for the summer. But they can also be a liability. If a child drowns in your backyard pool under your watch, you could be held liable.

In this case, it seems as if adults were watching the children in the pool, but the pool was just too crowded and no one was in charge of pool safety. Also remember, it takes but a few minutes for a child to silently slip underwater and become unconscious. These drownings or near-drownings, if they don’t result in death, could result in severe brain damage. Do not let this happen to your children or any child under your watch.

Here are some tips to prevent pool drowning and promote safety at your pool party from the American Red Cross’ Web site:

Make sure that parents or caretakers of all invited guests are aware that the party is a pool party.
If possible, have a lifeguard on duty.
If not hiring a lifeguard, identify or appoint responsible adults to supervise the pool when it is being used. These individuals must understand and accept responsibility for monitoring the pool and should be trained in CPR, first aid and water safety.
Establish rules for safety such as prohibiting all dives into shallow water; walking – no running on the deck; not permitting glass in the pool area
Do not serve alcoholic beverages to guests who are or will be participating in water activities.
Maintain cleanliness of water. Water should be chemically treated and tested regularly.
Check with the homeowner’s insurance company to determine the limits of coverage. Additional coverage for the event may be required.

Our home has have a rockscape pool with swim through, waterfalls and jumping rocks. We have parties that include many children, some who can not swim. We have two parties a year speciallically for the children of our law firm team members. Since I am very aware of the number of back yard pool drownings of children each year and that a homeowner is nearly strictly liable for a home pool drowning, we are constantly aware and vigilent when we have guests.

Our pool rules include at least one parent of each non-swimmer child must at least have their feet in the water while their child is in the water (we have a beach entry to the pool). Another rule is that there is always one parent at a time that is assigned as the “life guard” to watch the entire pool. Our “life guard” walks the edges of the pool (it is free formed boulders in a jungle setting) while on duty as a way to keep the “life guard” focused on pool safety rather than socializing. Many times we have pairs of “life guards”, usually mothers who walk the pool together, watching the children and chatting.

After reading about the Villa Park drowning I am considering actually hiring a life guard for pool parties rather than counting on parents.

For more information on this subject, please refer to our section on Property Owners’ Liability.