With the summer sun comes summer fun -- all the more convenient for those with a pool at home, but of course pools bring risk as well.
Pools have grown in popularity, with more than 8.3 million households splashing around in the backyard to cool off after a long, sweaty summer day. That's up 10% since 2002, according to the Association of Pool and Spa professions.
However, the convenience also comes with liabilities. Even those with small, inflatable pools need to take precautions against drowning and pool-related injuries, especially with small children.
Drowning is still the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages one to 14, according to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The report also found that 283 kids under the age of five drowned in pools and spas from 2003 to 2005, on average.
Most of the deaths and injuries occurred in residential settings and involve children ages one to two years old. Parents or caretakers often left the children unguarded for less than five minutes.
Vigilance is of the utmost importance, but insurance can provide added protection as well. An example can be found in a well-known incident in the summer of 2001 when a four-year-old child drowned at a birthday party for the son of former Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee. The boy's parents sued Lee for $10 million, and though a jury eventually cleared him of any responsibility, the case took two years to decide and almost certainly came with hefty legal costs.
"All pools -- from a simple kiddie pool to an aquatic extravaganza -- can be dangerous and need to be properly insured and comply with local safety standards," says Jeanne M. Salvatore, consumer spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute.
Five tips to safeguard yourself from potential pool hazards:
1. Set up barriers. Installing a fence, pool alarm, lock or safety cover can keep people from using the pool while you're away. They also count in your favor in case of a liability claim.
2. Be vigilant. Never leave children unsupervised for even a few seconds around the pool. Pool filters and other mechanical devices with suction can also injure small kids. Avoid leaving toys floating around the pool, since toddlers may try to reach for them and slip into the water.
3. Take the necessary precautions. Make sure that you and other pool-goers have taken crucial lessons -- from swimming to first aid and CPR -- and don't let anyone swim alone. Post instructions near the pool on how to turn off any filtration devices and cleaners, as well as emergency contact information in case of an accident. Keep a first-aid kit, life savers and reaching poles near the pool. Keep glass bottles, electrical devices and other hazards away from the pool.
4. Make sure you're following the rules. Every town or municipality has its own definition of a "pool" based on size and water depth, as well as its own regulations for pool owners. You must comply with local safety standards and building codes, which may require you to install a fence of a certain size, as well as locks, decks and pool-safety equipment.
5. Get insured. Pools are considered an "attractive nuisance" by insurance companies, meaning they can increase your liability risk and your costs. Although it might not seem worth the added expense, it takes just one heartbreaking and financially devastating incident to change that view, and by then it's too late.
Most homeowners' insurance policies come with at least $100,000 of liability insurance, although the III suggests pool owners increase that amount to $300,000 or $500,000. If the pool itself is expensive, make sure you have enough insurance to cover it in case of damage from a storm or other natural disaster, especially if you're in a risky area. There are also "umbrella" policies for an additional premium of $200 to $300 per year that will cover $1 million of liability above the homeowners' policy.