Municipalities Beware—Violation of Department of Public Health Rule Relating to Pools Waives Immunity

Posted on: July 17th, 2015

The parents of two teenage boys that drowned at the Pella Aquatics Center in 2010 filed a claim for negligence against the City of Pella. The district court granted summary judgment for the City on all of the plaintiffs’ negligence claims with one exception, concluding that the City was entitled to immunity under Iowa Code 670.4(12). This immunity protects cities/counties against claims relating to a swimming pool/spa “whether or not owned or operated by a municipality, unless the claim is based upon an act or omission of an officer or employee of the municipality and the act or omission constitutes actual malice or a criminal offense.” The district court denied summary judgment on that part of the claim in which the parents alleged that the City’s employee’s acts constituted the criminal offense of involuntary manslaughter. The Supreme Court in Sanon v. City of Pella, No. 13-1438 (June 26, 2015) reversed the district court’s ruling in part, holding (1) the plaintiffs effectively alleged the City violated administrative rules constituting criminal offenses under the Iowa Code, and if the City violated these rules, is was not entitled to immunity; and (2) the plaintiffs must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (and not the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt) that the City’s acts or omissions constituted involuntary manslaughter to remove it from the immunity granted by section 670.4(1).

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