Last year, I wrote about the very sad drowning death of a two-year-old boy who wandered into an apparently unsafe backyard near his home. Isaac Dieudonne, 2, walked out the front door of his new home and into the pool area of the next-door neighbor’s home, which was vacant. At least two gates leading to the pool were reportedly open, despite laws requiring self-latching gates intended to prevent this type of accident. At the time, the case attracted my attention because of speculation that the home was vacant due to foreclosure. On Oct. 29 of this year, that speculation was confirmed by a McClatchy article about the Dieudonne family’s struggle to hold someone responsible for Isaac’s death. Because the home is in foreclosure, it isn’t clear whether the mortgage holder, mortgage servicer or maintenance company should be responsible.
According to the article, the Dieudonnes’ Miramar premises liability attorney wasn’t even sure who owned the property at first. The title had changed hands several times; some documents were fraudulent or had serious errors; and was at one point being foreclosed on in two cases at the same time. As a result, the family has named 20 defendants in the case, including owners, servicers, maintenance companies and a company that was holding the title for an owner. Some of the defendants claim they didn’t own the property at the time of Isaac’s death. All of this has already complicated the case, with an unnecessary move to federal court, and with 20 corporate defendants, more delays are likely. The Dieudonnes claim that neither the side gate to the home’s backyard nor the gate into the pool were fitted with self-closing spring locks, as required by Miramar city code — and that they’re still unsafe today.
Unfortunately, drowning in swimming pools is a well known risk for toddlers and young children, which is exactly why cities have laws about self-latching gates. Under normal circumstances, a property owner’s failure to follow those laws can expose him or her to a premises liability lawsuit like the one the Dieudonnes are pursuing. Florida law gives everyone who owns or operates a property a legal obligation to ensure that the property is safe. This includes protections against foreseeable dangers, including the danger that a small child could get into a swimming pool without supervision. In my experience as a Lauderhill premises liability lawyer, handling this in a private home is usually a matter of handling the homeowners’ insurance company. But when it’s not even clear who owns the property, the entire process gets dragged out — and the family’s suffering unfortunately gets dragged out along with it.
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