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Can You Be Prosecuted for a Death in Your Swimming Pool?

The drowning death of a four-year-old in a Galveston hotel pool has renewed attention on pool safety. Many homeowners in Galveston and League City have swimming pools, and you might be wondering whether you could face criminal charges if someone drowns in your pool. The answer is “possibly.” Texas has laws on negligent homicide and manslaughter, which can result in charges even if a death is accidental.

Please call Tad Nelson & Associates if anyone dies on your property due to a defect. We can explain whether you can raise a defense, as well as what the district attorney must prove to secure a conviction. Our Galveston criminal defense attorney explains more below.

Accidental Deaths

Not every killing is intentional. Sometimes, a person dies accidentally, but the state can still bring criminal charges because the defendant acted with a culpable mental state.

In Texas, murder is an intentional killing of someone else. That means the person commits an act with the intent of bringing about the death. By contrast, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide are unintentional deaths. Still, the defendant is culpable and might suffer punishment.

Texas Penal Code § 19.04 defines manslaughter as recklessly causing an individual’s death. We can go to  section 6.03(c) to find the definition of “recklessness.” A defendant acts recklessly when they are aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk but act with conscious disregard of it. The risk must be substantial, so that disregarding it represents a gross deviation from ordinary care.

Section 19.05 defines criminally negligent homicide as causing a person’s death by criminal negligence. And under section 6.03(d), a defendant is criminally negligent when they “ought to have been aware” of substantial and unjustifiable risks but were not.

Examples of Manslaughter & Criminal Negligence

Some drowning deaths are truly accidental. But in other situations, you as the homeowner could be responsible for any accidental death if you were reckless or criminally negligent.

For example, maybe you were watching young children playing around the pool who couldn’t swim. When you go inside to pick up the phone or answer your door, a child falls in and drowns. Your actions could be reckless in this situation. There was a substantial risk that children could fall in, but you left them by the pool, nonetheless.

In other situations, your conduct could be criminally negligent. For example, Galveston requires that you have a pool yard enclosure, and the Texas Health and Safety Code identifies several requirements:

  • A fence or other enclosure at least 4 feet tall, with openings no larger than 4 inches
  • No use of chain link fence on new constructions
  • Self-closing and self-latching gates which open out from the pool
  • The use of reasonable care inspecting and repairing yard enclosures.

What happens if you failed to fix a defect in the enclosure because you were too lazy to inspect it? That failure could qualify as criminal negligence if someone, especially a child, gains access to the pool and drowns when falling in. And your charges could get upgraded to manslaughter if you knew of the defective enclosure but failed to act to fix it, or if you build an enclosure which didn’t conform to the required law.

Other Defects on Your Property

A swimming pool isn’t the only hazard on your property. Other visitors could be injured or killed by:

  • Electrocution
  • Fires
  • Slipping and falling
  • Partial building collapse
  • Falls down stairs
  • Defective appliances or furniture
  • Dangerous chemicals, including cleaning products
  • Prescription or other drugs

If someone dies in an accident, the police will investigate to see if you knew of the hazard and its severity. Did you create the hazard, or had you discovered it? Was your house not built to code, and were you aware of that fact?

Depending on what the police find, you could face manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide charges. For example, you might have had exposed wires due to sheetrock falling down, which you never repair even though the condition has existed for months. If a child is electrocuted, you could face criminal charges.

Defend Yourself from Criminal Charges

Many homeowners are aware that they can be sued for damages if someone is injured on their property, but criminal charges are not out of the question either, especially when someone dies. You need a legal team devoted to your case. Call Tad Nelson & Associates today. We can immediately review the facts, including the circumstances surrounding the death. We might also inspect your property to uncover the severity of the hazard.