When is a Public Swimming Pool Liable?

When is a Public Swimming Pool Liable?

Its summer time, and folks are jammed packed into pools seeking fun and a quick escape from the heat.  Most owners carefully manage their pools with all the proper procedures, staffing and equipment.  But, even a well-managed pool can have moments of forgetfulness; and either you or a loved one may suffer a swimming pool injury.

Most pool accidents fall into one of the categories below. Each can lead to liability if the shortcomings can be proven as negligence.  “Negligence” is the failure to exercise the same care an ordinarily careful and prudent person (or swimming pool) would exercise under the same or similar circumstances.

Swimming Pool Injury Categories

These categories cover most of swimming pool injuries and deaths:

  • Poorly designed pools– Perhaps a pool has not been properly designed to accommodate diving and no signs indicating “shallow water – do not dive” have been posted.  Many older pools have “dive wells” which were designed to be deeper and accommodate diving.  However, the pool operator may have outfitted the pool with a diving board or slide that has caused the dive wells to be too shallow or not extend out far enough to accommodate diving.  Someone who is diving out from the board may strike the upslope of the dive well, suffering catastrophic head or cervical spine injuries.  How a pool is designed or installed should signal whether it is appropriate for diving.  Markings and warnings should be on the pool deck or around the pool surface to inform and warn users of hazards
  • Cloudy water –While cloudy water can signal unsanitary pool maintenance, it can also hinder the lifeguards from doing their job. For instance, it can shield the view of lifeguards and parents who may otherwise have seen a swimmer in distress. This is especially true of someone lying on the bottom of the pool who needs immediate rescue.
  • Improperly installed or maintained drain grates. The suction from pool pumps can be rather startling and strong, especially for some young children.  Furthermore, if the grate that prevents close access to the actual drainage suction is missing or askew, someone, particularly a small child, may get a foot or an article of clothing caught in the drain.  Drowning can happen quickly.  An entrapped person may not be seen and rescued in time if entrapped at the bottom of the pool.
  • Inadequate staffing or improper pool rescue tools and procedures. This is a bit of a catchall. But, once an emergency presents itself, it doesn’t have to mean a dire outcome.  Pool staff should have proper rescue training, including how to deliver CPR and basic lifesaving.  Pool equipment should be readily available, displayed and properly maintained.  Rescue rings, “life hooks” (hooks with long poles used to assist someone to the surface and to the edge of the pool), spine boards, cervical collars and AED’s (Automatic External Defibrillators) can all buy time for an injured person.  Every pool should have close and easily identifiable access to a telephone with emergency numbers posted in plain sight.

Proving a Swimming Pool Injury

Proving a case against an owner of a swimming pool is a complicated task.  In some instances, such as where a municipality owns the pool, there may even be immunity considerations.  Swimming pool injuries tend to be extreme, often resulting in death.  Hence, in addition to proving the basic case of liability, there are frequently complex damage issues requiring experts for economic losses and life care plans.  Significant money is usually devoted to the proof of such cases, and when selecting an attorney for your swimming pool liability case, make sure the attorney has not only the expertise, but also the financial resources to support what can be expensive litigation.

“Public swimming pools” may include pools owned by cities, country clubs or swim clubs, hotels and other private entities.  Many of the same issues are involved with respect to pool safety irrespective of the owner.  However, there are twists and turns that depend on the particular owner.  In addition, simply because a swimming pool is understaffed, has no lifeguard, and may display a sign that says “swim at your own risk”, does not relieve a swimming pool of potential liability.  Only an experienced swimming pool attorney can evaluate a case involving a swimming pool injury and give you proper advice.

Click here to read about some handy tips to avoid a swimming pool injury!