Fun as they are, swimming pools are unbelievably dangerous. It is safer to keep a gun in the house than it is to have a pool in your backyard. Except for birth defects, drowning kills more American children between the ages of 1 to 4 than any other cause.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are approximately 3,500 fatal unintentional drownings, not including drownings related to boats, every year. That is about 10 per day. Fatal drowning is the second highest cause of unintentional death for children under the age of 15. These are unimaginably tragic cases.
Often due to the negligence of owners, operators, and manufacturers of pools, children and adults can suffer life-changing and even fatal injuries. These cases often lead to personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. On this page, we provide an overview of swimming pool injuries, safety, and some real-life examples of verdicts and settlements.
Poorly constructed, maintained, or supervised pools present the following safety risks to swimmers:
- Lack of proper safety equipment: Pools should have well-stocked first-aid kits and automatic external defibrillators (AED) available at all times. AEDs are often necessary to shock drowning victims back into normal sinus rhythm and can save precious moments while waiting for paramedics.
- Failure to Supervise: Pool owners and lifeguards themselves must take steps to ensure that lifeguards are properly trained and performing their duties. Owners of private facilities who receive guests often have a duty to supervise guests and swimmers and to protect them from injury and drowning.
- Failure to Warn: If there is no lifeguard, that must be clear to swimmers. Additionally, signs must adequately warn guests about the depth of water to protect would-be divers or people with limited swimming capability.
- Lack of Fencing: Swimming pools and other bodies of water, including Jacuzzis and hot tubs can qualify as an “attractive nuisance” for children. This is particularly true of those pools with water slides or with toys floating in them. If those pools are accessible by children and are not properly locked or restricted, the landowner may be responsible for unwittingly luring children to their property where drownings and other injuries may occur. Pools without fencing are 60% more likely to involve a drowning.
- Failure to Maintain: Owners of swimming pools may be liable if they fail to properly and safely maintain their facility. For example, diving boards must be safe to stand and jump from. The water must be clean so that people can safely swim in the water and so that lifeguards can see people having problems staying afloat. Pool-cleaning chemicals, if not properly used and measured, can cause significant health problems for swimmers. Surfaces around the water must be non-slip and safe to walk on.
- Defective Equipment: Many aspects of pools may be dangerous and cause injuries. Pool drains, when not properly covered, can be so powerful that they trap swimmers underwater, causing drowning. Ladders or slides may be improperly attached or defective, causing other injuries.
When a drowning or injury occurs, the following causes of action may be possible. A cause of action is the theory of liability. In other words, it is the reason the owner, operator, or manufacturer is responsible for what happened.
- Premises Liability: Owners are responsible for hazards on their land. The extent to which they are responsible depends on the “classification” of the injured person. For example, different duties are owed to invitees, licensees, and trespassers (many states have different classifications). A pool can qualify as a hazard when it has dangers that the owner knew or should have known about. Therefore, owners must take reasonable steps to make sure their pools are safe.
- Product Liability: Pools or pool equipment may be defective, including design defects (the pool was incorrectly designed), manufacturing defects (the pool’s design was correct but it was improperly constructed), and failure to warn (for example, lack of signs about the pool’s depth).
- Negligence: Owners and operators of pools have a duty to act reasonably in their ownership and maintenance of the pool and its surroundings. They may be responsible for pool-related injuries or drownings by failing to have lifeguards on duty, failing to properly train lifeguards, or failing to keep the pool safe.
Every state has a deadline to file a lawsuit known as a statute of limitations. In Maryland, the statute of limitations on most personal injury claims is three years.
Be aware that pool injuries and drownings may take time to investigate in order to determine the responsible parties and the theories of liability. For example, if a product defect is involved, your lawyer must identify the manufacturer of the equipment, the seller of the equipment, and anyone who installed or assembled the device. If the claim is one of negligence or premises liability, the owner of the pool must be identified, as well as anyone else who was responsible for the area at the time (including pool companies or vendors).
Also, most states have shortened the deadline to file suit or require early notice where a governmental entity may be responsible. If the pool was run by a city, county or state, there may be a very short time to preserve your right to file a lawsuit.Swimming Pool Safety
- Never leave children or inexperienced swimmers unobserved around pools.
- Never swim while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Learn CPR and post CPR instructions near the pool.
- Fence and lock-in your pool so neighboring children do not use it while you are away
- Keep toys away from the pool when it is not in use.
- Use non-slip materials around your pool.
Below is a list of verdicts and settlements in swimming pool accident cases from around the country. It is important to keep in mind that the amount a jury awards is often more than plaintiffs receive due to caps on non-economic damages or insurance policy limits. Other factors, including the specifics of your case and the jurisdiction of the case, mean that your case will not necessarily turn out like these examples.
- November 2019, California: $2,125,000 Settlement A 16-year-old boy with autism goes to a local park as part of a school field trip. The park has a five-lane swimming pool with a 21’ deep end. His parents were not told there would be a pool at the event and were told that students would be monitored and cared for at the park. During the school event, the boy enters the swimming pool area unsupervised, falls into the water, and drowns. His parents sue the County of Los Angeles for failing to adequately train its staff and to provide enough staff for the number of children at the event. Additionally, they argue that the defendant lacked policies to prevent children from being unattended and to rescue those in distress in the pool.
- September 2019, Arizona: $2,750,000 Verdict An adult woman drowns while swimming in a hotel pool. She is survived by her two children, her spouse, and her parents. The hotel is sued on behalf of her estate. The argument is that the hotel did not properly mark where the shallow end turned into the deep end. The pool allegedly had no safety rope dividing the sections, a steep slope into the deep end, poor lighting inside and around the pool, and lacked markings indicating where the pool got deeper. The hotel denied liability. The jury does not agree and awards $5.5 million which is reduced to $2.75 million by the judge. The award is composed entirely of loss of services from the woman to her children, spouse, and parents.
- May 2019, Florida: $1,000,000 Settlement A family throws their five-year-old a pool party for his birthday. They pay for two extra lifeguards to watch the children and their families swim. The boy’s grandfather suffers a heart attack while he is swimming and is submerged for two minutes. When he is finally pulled out, he cannot be resuscitated. The man’s family alleges that the lifeguards the venue provided were not certified. Additionally, they claim that the pool was so cloudy that the lifeguards could not see the man submerged at the bottom of the pool. The lawsuit settles before trial for $1 million, the defendant’s insurance policy limit.
- June 2018, Pennsylvania: $52,000,000 Verdict A toddler nearly drowns at a birthday party when she climbs the ladder of an aboveground pool and enters the pool. Her mother had left her in the care of her grandmother. Neither the grandmother nor anybody else notice that the toddler has climbed into the pool until she is found a short time later. The toddler suffers a devastating brain injury from oxygen deprivation, causing her to be in a vegetative state. The mother sues the pool ladder manufacturer for failing to have certain safety features, as well as the owner of the pool. The ladder manufacturer pays $1,000,000 in exchange for a Joint Tortfeasor Release. Essentially, this is a type of settlement that releases the manufacturer from further liability but still allows the mother to seek compensation from other defendants. A jury finds that the owner of the pool and the grandmother put in charge of watching the toddler were each 50% negligent. The owner pays their policy limit of $300,000, but the grandmother is uninsured. So, despite the $52,000,000 verdict, the mother recovers $1,300,000.
Swimming pool injuries may involve injuries from falls, serious brain injuries from oxygen deprivation, and death. If you live in the United States and believe you may have a claim, call our lawyers at 800-553-8082 or contact us online for a free consultation.