Once summer hits, swimming pools beckon, inviting all ages to enter. There are an estimated 10 million pools in the U.S. While pool swimming allows for a day full of joy and excitement, it also needs to be safe.
Did you know a young child could drown in as little as 25 seconds? While swimming pools can make for great fun, they can also be dangerous.
If you’re a parent, or the owner of a pool, learning about swimming pool accidents and how to prevent them is critically important. The last thing you want to happen is for someone to be injured or even drown on your watch.
What are Common Swimming Pool Accidents?
Every year, there are thousands of accidents at swimming pools. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that more than 3,500 people drown in swimming pools yearly. About one-fifth of these are children 14 years or younger.
Further, the CDC asserts that drowning is the number one cause of accidental death for children between the ages of 1 and 4. In addition, the CDC estimates that 5 children are taken to emergency rooms because of injuries sustained in a swimming pool for every 1 child who drowns.
Accidents related to swimming include the following:
- Brain injury from blunt force – someone may suffer a brain injury, such as a concussion, if they hit their head in the water, near a pool, or on the walls or floor of a pool
- Brain injury from lack of oxygen – when someone is drowning, their brain is deprived of oxygen. Brain damage occurs after 5 minutes. Victims may suffer from memory loss, seizures, paralysis and may even be left in a permanent vegetative state
- Slip and fall accidents from a slippery area around the pool, including broken limbs, head injuries, and lacerations
- Diving board injuries, including brain damage and broken bones
- Infections – gastrointestinal, skin, eye, ear, neurologic, and wound infections can occur if the pool is not clean enough
- Lung injuries – someone who has been involved in a drowning accident may develop aspiration pneumonia, which is a lung infection that occurs after someone inhales water into their lungs
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) – ARDS is a severe and often fatal lung condition that happens when fluid fills up someone’s air sacs
- Death by drowning
Swimming Pool Drownings
What factors increase one’s risk of drowning in a swimming pool? The CDC states the following risks are the reason behind so many drowning fatalities;
- Subpar swimming skills
- A lack of swimming pool barriers
- A lack of supervision
Who is Liable for Swimming Pool Accidents?
The owner or operator of a swimming pool has a legal duty to use reasonable care in operating a swimming pool. Failing to exercise reasonable care can lead to injuries, for which the pool owner can be held legally responsible.
For an individual or business to be held liable for someone’s injury in a swimming pool, the plaintiff must prove negligence. Negligence relies on the principle that a person or entity had a duty of care and failed that duty. To prove that a pool owner or operator was negligent in operating their pool, the following must be proven:
- The pool owner/operator owed a guest a duty of care in the operation of their swimming pool. If a person is invited or pays to use an owner/operator’s pool, then the owner/operator does owe that person a duty of care.
- The owner/operator breached that duty, i.e., failed to do what was required to ensure safety.
- Someone suffered an injury as a result of the breach. For example, suppose there is a ladder for access to the deep end of a pool. It is broken and unsafe to use, but the owner/operator fails to warn a guest, and the guest is injured when they attempt to enter the pool using the ladder. It is very likely that the pool owner/operator is negligent in the eyes of the law and responsible for compensating the guest for their injury.
- The breach of the duty was the direct cause of the injury.
Liability May Be Complicated By the Status of A Visitor
Liability can be complicated based on the status of someone injured on the property. Typically, visitors of a property fall into one of the following categories, and the duty of property owners may vary.
Generally speaking, pool owners do not owe the standard duties to trespassers. However, the property owner does owe a trespasser a limited duty to prevent intentional injury.
How Can Pool Owners Prevent Swimming Pool Accidents?
The owner or operator of a swimming pool should take reasonable steps to prevent or minimize the possibility of injury to pool users, including the following:
- Have guests supervise their children at all times
- Post signs that indicate the pool rules and the depth of the pool
- Never leave children unsupervised near water, even if it’s shallow water
- Use “touch supervision” around swimming children, which means an adult should always be within an arm’s length
- Remove toys from the pool so a child doesn’t fall in the water trying to retrieve something
- Make sure your swimming pool is separate from the play area of your yard
- If you are able, have a lifeguard on duty if people are using the pool
- Avoid mixing alcohol and swimming
- Fence off the pool to prevent uninvited people from gaining access
- Install alarms, but remember that this isn’t a substitute for fencing
- Have rescue equipment, such as a life preserver, handy
- Learn how to do CPR
- A pool that is not in use should be covered
- Carry a homeowner’s insurance policy that includes coverage for pool accidents
- Make sure you follow local pool safety ordinances to keep everyone safe.
Slips and Falls
The area surrounding the pool can be very wet and often contains many tripping hazards. Because of this, slip-and-fall accidents around pools tend to be very common. Here are some other things you can do to prevent slip-and-fall accidents around the pool:
- Do not allow pool users to run in the pool area
- Cover poolside walkways with non-slip surface coverings and make sure they have adequate traction
- Encourage everyone to wear flip flops with nonskid soles when they’re poolside
- Place warning signs around your pool to remind guests of potential hazards
- Place handrails in dangerous areas, especially if elderly persons are using your pool
- Make sure the area surrounding the pool is free of any tripping hazards
- Have a designated bin for pool toys and floaties
- Have a first aid kit as well as a cell phone handy in case of an accident
Also, remember that the ground shifts can make the decking uneven and cause a tripping hazard. For this reason, occasionally, you may need to remove and re-level your decking to prevent slip and fall accidents.
Should I Speak to an Attorney?
An experienced local personal injury attorney can help to create or defend a negligence case against a pool owner or operator. Proving or disproving negligence and resulting damages requires the knowledge and expertise that a good attorney can provide. An attorney can evaluate medical evidence to accurately identify the extent of injuries and determine the appropriate compensatory damages.
When a pool owner purchases homeowner’s insurance, an attorney might also ensure that the insurance coverage limits are adequate to cover any damages that might have to be paid if a person is injured at their pool. Having an attorney is vital if the matter goes to court.