With Memorial Day just around the corner, many families will hit the backyard for barbeques, games of bocci ball or cornhole, and of course, sit for hours alongside swimming pools. Before you and your family throw on bathing suits to take a dip, it’s important to understand the risks involved with pools, pool accident liability, and how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 3,692 swimming pool deaths in the United States last year. Of those fatalities, more than 11% were children under the age of 4. Swimming pool accidents often happen fast, and many people never see them coming.
Common causes of swimming pool accidents include:
- Horsing around: Pools are a great way to have fun and cool off, however, it’s never a good idea to be careless and ignore safety protocols.
- Slips and falls: Pool decks can get slippery when wet. Never run around a pool and use care when entering and exiting the pool.
- Improper use of diving board: Obey diving board warnings and uses. Most diving boards are meant for one person at a time and have weight and activity restrictions. Most residential diving boards have a maximum weight of 250 pounds.
- Inexperienced swimmer: Inexperienced swimmers are the most at risk for pool injuries and accidental drownings. Any pool visitor without swimming skills should be supervised at all times and for small children especially, wear flotation devices.
- Lack of supervision: Drowning can occur in as little as 20 seconds for a child and 40 seconds for an adult. Children should never be left unattended at a pool.
- Inadequate or absent fencing or pool cover: All water greater than 24″ is considered a pool and is required to have fencing or a barrier to prevent curious children or unwanted guests from access. Many pool accidents occur because of poor fencing or broken latches on gates.
- Intoxication: Indulging in too much alcohol can impair judgment and slow reflexes. Never drink in excess at a pool.
Pool Accident Liability
What happens after a swimming pool accident? Who is liable for the injury or fatality? For residential and public pools, most accidents that result in injury would fall under premises liability. Premises liability assumes property owners have a responsibility to maintain a safe environment for their guests so people visiting do not suffer any injuries.
If someone is injured at a residential or public pool, they will have to prove:
- The property owner owed them a duty of reasonable care at the pool.
- The property owner breached the duty of care by careless action or negligence.
- The injury was directly related to the breach.
- They suffered damages from the injury.
Even trespassers are covered under premises liability in some cases, so it’s important pool owners keep their pools safe from accidents. To protect against unwanted visitors using a pool and getting injured, owners should follow state laws for securing the pool and property. This is especially important for child trespassers who may not understand the risk of drowning.
Most public pool owners have a greater responsibility of duty of reasonable care. For pools classified as a recreational swimming establishment, there must be at least one lifeguard on duty for every 4,000 sq. ft. of surface area of water.
Premises Liability Exceptions for Pool Accidents
Like most laws, there are exceptions to premises liability. For swimming pool accidents, the injured may be liable for their own actions if they were careless or ignored warning signs. Swimmers who have consumed too much alcohol may be at fault if their consumption was excessive and the pool was well protected and otherwise safe for a sober guest.
The injured may also be liable for their own behavior and resulting injuries if they ignored clear warning signs. For example, if the injured ignored “no diving” signs and hurt himself while diving into the pool, he would be liable for his behavior and resulting injuries.
In some cases, there may be shared liability, where both the owner and the injured are at fault. If an impaired swimmer hurt himself on a broken ladder, for example, both the injured and the owner can share liability. In cases like these, the money owed for damages may be reduced.
Swimming pool accidents can be devastating for everyone involved including the victim, pool owner, and family members. The good news is you can reduce the risk of pool accidents by following these pools safety tips:
- If you own a pool, install a fence or wall at least 48″ tall to stop entrance by children or unwanted guests. Gates should have a self-latching mechanism to prevent them from staying opened accidentally. Install alarms on doors leading from the house to the pool to alert you if someone is heading to the pool area.
- Never leave a child unattended. If you are with a group of people at a pool, designate at least one person to be the “pool watcher.” This person should not be reading, on the phone, or doing anything else distracting. Even at a public pool with lifeguards, be sure to always keep an eye on children.
- Teach children (and yourself!) how to swim. Being an able swimmer is the best way to prevent accidental drowning. Swimming is not only fun, but it’s also a life skill!
- Don’t ignore the risk of drain covers. Many pool deaths occur when someone gets trapped in the suction of a faulty drain cover. Teach children to stay away from them and if you own a pool, make sure they are properly installed and compliant.
- Know how to do CPR, just in case. Knowing how to properly perform CPR on both children and adults can save lives. CPR classes are offered through many community centers and the American Red Cross.
- Know the warning signs of water distress and drowning. Be alert for swimmers who are gasping for air, waving their arms, bobbing up and down in the water, or floating face down. All of these are signs of a swimmer in distress who may need assistance or rescue. Other warning signals include a swimmer with a weak swim stroke or hair in the eyes or face.
Take the Pool Safely Pledge
To improve pool safety, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched Pool Safely: Simple Steps to Save Lives, a national campaign to reduce childhood drownings and injuries.
As part of the campaign, you and your family can take the Pool Safely Pledge to make sure you and your family are safer around water this year. By taking the pledge, you will:
- Designate a “pool watcher” every time a child is in a pool.
- Teach your children how to swim.
- Learn CPR.
- Always remove portable ladders from a pool when not in use.
- Ensure proper fencing and safe drain covers are present at a pool.
Take the pledge today as a family to kick off your summer fun at the pool!
We Understand the Trauma of a Pool Accident
At the Law Offices of Dale E. Anstine, our priority is our clients. We understand the emotional distress caused by a pool accident and our law firm is here to help. If you or a loved one have been injured in a pool accident, reach out today for your FREE consultation. You may be entitled to compensation for a wrongful death or injury under personal injury law.
Get a specialized personal injury lawyer on your side who has a full understanding of liability laws in PA. While we hope you will not need us this pool season, we are available 24/7, and there is no fee unless we win for you.