Following one of the coldest winters in St. Louis history, summer may feel a lifetime away. Arctic “polar vortex” temperatures have not slowed legislative efforts in the Missouri House to pass a bill addressing life vests on children when swimming.
The proposed bill seeks to: (1) Expand the age to any child under 8 years old; and (2) Expand the location to anytime a child swims in water deeper than 3 feet and without a lifeguard. The current law states that children under 7 years old must wear a life vest, and then only while a passenger on any watercraft.
St. Louis has seen several tragedies even in the more recent colder months involving children drowning accidentally. In October, 2013, for example, a set of nine-year-old twin boys drowned in a local hotel pool following a child’s game to see who could hold their breath longest underwater. The police did not file criminal charges against the boys’ mother. A second story from the same timeframe involved a 19-month-old child drowning in a pond located on farm-property.
While the newly introduced bill would not have applied in either situation above—as the twins were over the recommended age, and the toddler does not appear to have been placed in the pond to go swimming – the bill could impose a greater duty on anyone in a similar situation as the hotel. The Missouri standard for negligence starts by categorizing what type of guest is on the property. Depending on the category, the duty of care varies.
First, property owners need to ask if the guest there for primarily business or personal reasons? If the guests have a business purpose they are probably considered “business invitees.” If they are there for social reasons, they are likely “licensees.” If the person is uninvited, they are most likely trespassers. The greatest duty of care goes to the business invitee.
Should the bill become Missouri law, the hotel has the highest degree of care to provide its youngest guests with life vests.
If you are a St. Louis business or homeowner concerned with personal injuries stemming from premises liability, speak with a reputable personal injury attorney to discuss your concerns.