Nothing brings families and friends together like a backyard barbecue by the swimming pool, but it’s also one of the greatest financial and legal risks a homeowner can take. When swimming pool ownership responsibilities are not taken seriously, personal injury or wrongful death can be the tragic result. Protect swimmers from harm and yourself from liability.
Swimming Pools are Dangerous
According to the USA Swimming Foundation, 148 children under the age of 15 years drowned in swimming pools or spas. From Memorial Day through Labor Day 2018. Accidental drowning remains the leading cause of unintentional death for children ages 1 to 4.
Drowning is not the only hazard posed by swimming pools. Other common swimming pool accidents include slip and fall injuries, diving board injuries, broken bones, lacerations, electrocution, and infection. As a swimming pool owner, you have a responsibility to prevent injuries and fatalities, even when someone uses the pool without your permission.
“An owner of a swimming pool has a legal obligation to ensure the safety of swimmers who are foreseeable users of that pool and to prevent harm from dangers that may arise from the existence of the pool itself,” says attorney Matthew Ryan of the Flushing Law Group. “It is expected that property owners will make reasonable inspections of the pool and surrounding areas, caution invitees of any known dangers, and fix unsafe conditions within a reasonable time.”
Supervision is Critical—Especially When Kids Are Around
“Preventing accidental drownings and other personal injuries from occurring at your pool is a full-time job,” writes James Keller of Keller & Keller Law Firm in Indianapolis. “It starts with constant and close supervision of pool occupants at all times. It’s the homeowner’s job to prohibit horseplay, misuse of the pool, and to keep intoxicated guests away from the water.”
Pool owner responsibilities increase when young children are involved. If a child will be using your pool, provide a level of supervision that is appropriate for both the age of the child as well as the child’s ability or inability to perceive the unique dangers of the pool. Sometimes supervision isn’t always enough.
One of the most dangerous situations arises when no one is in the pool. That’s when the pool is likely not being supervised and someone wanders into the pool area without the homeowner’s knowledge or consent. “A pool owner who knows a pool area may be discovered by young children in an unsupervised state should ensure the pool area is locked, fenced, or covered,” says Ryan.
Be Aware of Your Legal Liability and Accountability
The owner of the swimming pool is the person responsible for providing a safe environment for those who use the pool as well as those who don’t.
Create a safe swimming pool area by:
- Erect a secure fence with a self-locking gate around the pool. Check local building laws for height and material restrictions.
- Store ladders from an above-ground pool when the pool is not in use.
- Secure a pool cover on an in-ground pool when it’s not in use.
- Install alarms on doors that lead directly to the pool area.
- Set pool alarms to alert you when the surface of the water is disrupted.
- Keep lifesaving devices near the pool and in good working order.
- Make sure your pool is clean. Have the water tested regularly and adjust chemicals accordingly.
- Have your pool serviced regularly. Be on the lookout for problems with drains, liners, and ladders.
Establish pool rules:
- Make sure the pool is monitored by someone who knows CPR.
- Institute a “never swim alone” policy. Always know how many people are in the pool at any given moment.
- Insist swimmers enter the water feet first to prevent neck and back injuries.
- Do not rely on inflatable toys as lifesaving devices.
- Keep children within arms’ reach at all times.
- If a child goes missing, check the pool first.
Protect yourself from a lawsuit:
- Know “Swim at your own risk” signs will not protect you from being sued.
- Check your homeowner’s insurance policy for adequate coverage for potential pool accidents.
“Even though the liability portion of your homeowner’s insurance covers pool accidents if a guest is injured or dies,” warns Lev Barinskiy, cofounder of SmartFinancial, “you can still be legally held accountable if you were not providing a safe swimming environment when you allowed guests to use your swimming pool.”
If an accident occurs in or around your swimming pool, contact an attorney immediately.