Swimming Pool Liability: Drowning and Personal Injury
Before purchasing a swimming pool, homeowners must know the risks and responsibilities associated with pool ownership. For most people, owning a swimming pool may represent the greatest amount of financial and legal risk they ever take with regard to their personal property, and if swimming pool ownership responsibilities are taken lightly, a serious personal injury or wrongful death can be the end result.
Misconceptions about drowning and swimming pools
Most people have a false belief that pools are safe unless someone is engaging in horseplay, misuse of the pool, or swimming while intoxicated, etc. While these activites certainly create a hazardous risk, most accidental drowning cases occur when the pool is not being actively used.
Unfortunately, unsupervised children are often victims of drowning and swimming pool accidents. (Our law firm has first-hand experience with these types of cases, and they are tragic.) In the time that it takes an individual to answer the phone or use the bathroom, a child can rapidly wander away and fall into a swimming pool. Drowning can occur very quickly and often happens very quietly. Visions of people flailing around in the water and screaming for help are most often seen in movies; however, this is rarely what happens. Most people who drown slip beneath the water quickly and quietly and don't have the chance to yell or motion for help.
How do homeowners and parents protect children and others from accidentally drowning?
Preventing accidental drownings and other personal injury from occuring at your pool is a full-time job. And it starts with constant and close supervision of pool occupants (especially children) at all times. However, supervision is not enough on its own.
One of the most dangerous siutations arises when no one is in the pool. This means that 1) the pool is not likely being supervised, and 2) someone, most likely a child, can wander into the pool area without your consent or knowledge. So how do you protect yourself from this liability and prevent others from risk?
For the times when you are not using your pool, you must install a type of fence or gate that latches and locks, a pool cover that can be latched or secured, and an alarm that alerts the owners when there is movement near or in the pool. Failing to follow these steps could mean trouble for the homeowner and tragic consequences for the person or child in the pool.
- Gates and fencing should completely surround the pool and be at least 4 feet high.
- The gates should be self-closing, and the latches on the gates should be high enough that a child cannot reach the latch.
- Install and use a pool cover that can be secured and used whenever the pool is not in use.
- Make sure that members of the household know CPR and that rescue equipment is in good working order and kept near the pool.
- If a child goes missing; check the pool first.
- Install a pool alarm that can alert the pool owner when the surface of the water has been disrupted.
A Poolowner's Legal Liability and Accountability
No matter what you have heard or been told before, the owner of the pool is the person responsible for providing a safe environment for both children and adults who use the pool, as well as for people who live near the pool. The homeowner is also responsible for being pro-active in accident prevention. For some homeowners, this is a burden and responsibility that they do not want to shoulder, and sometimes why a homeowner chooses not to have a pool. However, for those that do, the following list explains how the homeowner can help reduce accident liability:
- Make sure that both children and adults use the pool supervised.
- Never allow the pool to be unattended if it is accessible.
- When done using the pool, clear out all pool toys so that children are not tempted by them.
- Require that guests supervise their children when visiting.
- Do not allow an intoxicated person to use the pool.
- Make sure that life saving devices are kept nearby and in good condition.
- Never rely on floatation devices to protect individuals using the pool from drowning.
- Make sure that the insurance policy you have on your home includes coverage for any possible accidents that could occur in regards to the pool. $1 million is the recommended minimum.
- Never rely on posted warning signs such as “Swim At Your Own Risk” or something similar to protect you against a lawsuit. If someone is injured or drowns in your pool, it's very possible that a claim will be filed against you, no matter what type of sign was posted.
The bottom line:
Property owners are responsibile for keeping their pool secure. If a homeowner has a pool and does not take adequate measures to prevent unwanted or unsupervised individuals from gaining access to the pool, they can end up assuming liability if an accident occurs.