Public Swimming Pool Liability
UPDATED: June 19, 2018
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Premises liability law will usually make owners of public pools, or pools in hotels / spas, liable for injuries suffered by parties who use the facility. There is some exception depending on the contributing fault of the injured party and whether or not the party was a trespasser, but generally businesses that make pools open to paying guests or the general public will be responsible for injuries that occur in or around the pool - particularly if conditions are dangerous. If you have been injured in a hotel or public pool, consult an experienced personal injury attorney before taking any action to recover money damages.
Parties Responsible in Public Swimming Pool Accidents
Liability in public swimming pool and spa accidents can be very complex. There are three main legal theories involved - negligence, product liability and premises liability.
Product Liability: If there was an actual problem with the swimming pool, or the equipment attached to the swimming pool, you might file a product liability lawsuit against the swimming pool manufacturers, retailers or distributors.
Negligence: If the equipment was improperly installed, you might have a cause of action in negligence against the installers. The owner of a swimming pool may also be found vicariously liable for the failures of its employees. For example, if a lifeguard’s negligence caused your injuries, the lifeguard's employer would have to pay your damages. The cause of action could also be directly against the employer if it was a case of negligent hiring or training. For example, in hiring, the employer did not screen for the lifeguard’s ability, training, experience, or certification level. If a homeowner has hired a lifeguard to patrol a private pool, the claim would be based on the same type of allegations.
Premises Liability: A premises liability case can also be brought against pool owners and municipalities for a variety of inadequacies that cause injuries: lack of adequate warnings, poor or absent safety equipment, lack of safety fencing or alarms, and lack of supervision. Most swimming-related accidents are considered a premises liability lawsuit. A reasonably prudent owner – private and public – would take these precautions to control access to the pool or spa. Without these safeguards, the owner could find himself liable for damages that could run into six or seven figures.
An experienced attorney will be able to weed through the facts of the case and the relevant state law in order to identify the parties responsible for a swimming pool accident in a public or hotel / spa pool.
TIP: Actions of employees at public or hotel / spa pools that cause or contribute to swimming pool accidents can make the employer liable depending on the circumstances. An experienced attorney will be able to identify if and how employee contributions to swimming pool injuries make the employer liable.
Posted Signs and Public Pool Liability
Posting a warning sign ostensibly places a degree of responsibility on the swimmer to look after his or her own safety. If the pool owner has acted reasonably in warning a swimmer of the possible perils of the pool, but the swimmer ignores the warnings by, for example, running around the pool despite warning signs, the pool owner will have a good defense should the swimmer sue for injuries.
However, if those signs are hidden or not readable, they serve no true purpose and may not be an effective defense to a liability claim. Also, it is unlikely that the posting of a “swim at your own risk” sign at a private pool would shield the pool owner from liability if there were no other safety measures: a fence around the pool, a gate with a latch, etc. The effect of the lack of a “No-diving” sign on possible liability arising from a diving accident will depend on the circumstances. Many cases involving diving into shallow water are dismissed because the diver should have known that the water was too shallow for a dive, or minimally should have recognized the danger involved.
Some states have laws requiring the posting of particular signs in particular circumstances. For example, many cities have ordinances that require a lifeguard or a warning sign when there is no lifeguard. The mere failure to post the sign may be sufficient to establish the owner’s liability if a swimmer drowns.
Assumption of Risk
If there was no lifeguard on duty, then assumption of risk comes into play. A “No lifeguard on duty” sign, or a "swim at your own risk" sign, makes assumption of risk even more important. If such a sign were present and obvious when the person was injured, the court might reason that the swimmer knew of the potential risks when swimming without a lifeguard, but decided to do it anyway. The court would weigh this risk factor with the precautions that the owner or operator of the facility did take in making its determination. Of course, if the injured was a child, then the court’s expectation for a person’s risk management skills will change. Assumption of risk could make the victim partially responsible for their injuries, and limit the damages they can recover.