Every day, nine people drown in the United States. Another sobering fact is that drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental injury-related death among children aged 1-14. For each death, there are up to four non-fatal incidents that are serious enough that the victim needs hospitalization. In most cases, the drowning of a child happens when he or she is being supervised at a swimming pool.
Liability for Swimming Pool Accidents
Liability for swimming pool accidents usually depends on the premises liability law of your state. Pool owners, whether they are owners of a private pool or in a public setting, can be held liable when a visitor or swimmer is injured under the usual rules of premises liability for the state where the pool is located. However, public pool owners must comply with specific federal and state regulations to keep the pool safe and the appropriate safety equipment installed.
In some states, there are certain types of visitors who are owed a higher standard of care: invitees and licensees. In other states, the allegedly dangerous condition and the behavior of the swimming pool owner and accident victim are all taken into account to evaluate liability. Generally, in both types of states, the pool must be reasonably safe for its anticipated use.
State and Local Laws
Most states and municipalities have laws or ordinances in place that require a swimming pool owner to take additional precautions, such as fencing their pool or installing depth markers. These laws may apply to both private and public pool owners and may help establish a pool owner’s duty of care.
Public Pool Liability
In states that recognize the special statuses of invitees and licensees, an owner of a public pool has a duty to reasonably maintain and repair the pool to injuries to them. Typically, the highest degree of care is owed to invitees. Invitees in this context are members of the public who are invited to use the pool.
A public pool owner can be held liable for failing to provide emergency safety equipment at a public pool if an invitee is injured. A public pool owner may also be held liable for broken equipment at the pool or a lack of adequate supervision or lifeguards. If a particular type of equipment or supervision is required by law, and the lack of them causes an accident, an inference of negligence may be created in certain states that follow the doctrine of negligence per se.
In addition to keeping a public pool safe and complying with state and federal regulations, a public pool owner may need to warn invitees of any hidden dangers. For example, if it is not obvious that a pool is too shallow for diving, an owner may be liable for failing to warn when an invitee is injured.
Private Pool Liability
An owner of a private pool has a duty to warn social guests, or licensees, of any dangers that are not open and obvious. For example, if a pool owner knows that the ladder of the pool is broken, he or she should warn of this danger or repair it. This duty is less substantial, however, than the duty to invitees at a public pool. Similarly, a private pool owner can be legally liable for injuries to children who are invited to use a pool if they are not adequately supervised or if there is no barrier, such a pool cover or a fence, to stop a child from going into the pool without supervision.
Pool owners may be responsible for injuries even to trespassers if those trespassers are children, under the attractive nuisance doctrine.
Generally, pool owners do not owe any duty to trespassers other than to refrain from inflicting any intentional harm on them. However, there are exceptions. The most significant exception is related to child trespassers, or children not specifically invited to swim in a pool. Under the attractive nuisance doctrine, when a landowner owns something dangerous that is attractive to children, he or she needs to take special precautions to prevent children from entering and getting injured.
In states that follow the attractive nuisance doctrine, both public pool owners and private pool owners must keep a pool safe from being accessed by young children who are not supervised, since they do not understand the danger of drowning. The pool owner will need to erect a fence or other barrier to keep young children from falling into it.