Swimming Pool Safety and Homeowner Legal Liability
Swimming pools can offer exercise and relaxation to homeowners and to guests whom they invite onto their property. However, pools often are the sites of serious accidents, including drowning and near-drowning. You should be aware of the precautions that you may need to take if you are considering installing a swimming pool or if your property already features a pool. This can help you avoid liability if an accident happens in or around the pool.
Some states, such as Florida, have passed specific laws regarding safety in swimming pools. You should make sure that your pool complies with any laws in your state, even if the pool was already on your property before you bought it.
Hazards Related to Swimming Pools
Some pools have hidden obstructions or variations in depth. Also, not every pool is appropriate for diving or for other activities that a guest might want to pursue. If a drain is clogged, or if a diving board has a non-obvious flaw, a homeowner should mention these things to a guest. In general, homeowners should make sure to warn their guests of any dangers related to the pool that would not be obvious to a reasonable person. (They do not have the same level of duty as a business owner of a pool, such as a city or a hotel or resort.)
Pool owners generally do not have a duty to warn guests of open and obvious dangers.
Many injuries at swimming pools arise from conditions that are obvious, such as water from people’s footprints around the edges of the pool that creates a slipping risk. Homeowners do not need to warn their guests about these hazards because a reasonable person would notice them and take them into account. Guests also cannot hold a homeowner accountable for their own reckless actions that cause injuries, such as when a guest dives into the pool from an unreasonably dangerous place.
If a trespasser comes onto your property and attempts to use the pool, they are not entitled to protection from its non-obvious dangers if you are unaware that they are on the property. If you are aware that they are on the property, you may have a basic duty to warn, depending on the state. However, a stricter rule may apply if the trespasser is a child.
Children in Swimming Pools
In states that recognize the attractive nuisance doctrine, people with pools may be responsible for injuries to trespassing children.
Many states use a rule called the “attractive nuisance” doctrine. This covers property conditions that are hazardous but appealing to children, who may not appreciate the risks. In states in which this doctrine applies, people who own pools need to take precautions to protect children who may be trespassing onto the property to access the pool. This most often involves putting a fence or other barriers around the pool, or placing it in an area behind a locked gate.
Injuries Caused by People in the Pool
If you engage in hazardous or reckless behavior in the pool, you can be liable for any resulting injuries, regardless of the condition of the pool. This type of claim might arise if the homeowner jumps on someone in the pool and pushes them underwater, causing oxygen deprivation or spinal cord injuries. You should also be aware that insurance policies generally will not cover intentional conduct, so you may be personally liable for the resulting costs. However, you are not responsible for the reckless behavior of your guests if other guests are injured as a result, unless this should have been foreseeable to you in the circumstances.