Public Pools, Private Tragedies
A family road trip at any time of the year could include a stay in a hotel with a pool. Or, perhaps your municipality has a public pool or series of pools to enjoy, as Columbia does. In any case, in any season, there’s fun to be had in a swimming pool, but watchfulness is also called for, especially when it comes to children.
According to the latest report in 2015 from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), nearly 300 children under the age of five drown in pools and spas every year. That’s about three-fourths of all fatalities for those 14 and under. Those aged 12 to 47 months make up 65 percent of reported deaths and 64 percent of reported injuries involving pools and spas. In South Carolina during 2014, five children under the age of 15 drowned; we tied for tenth place overall in the U.S. with Louisiana and Virginia.
Public Pools and Their Rules
Generally, a public swimming pool is any pool operated for use by the general public (with or without charge) or by members and guests of a private club. These definitions include hotels, motels, and apartment complexes. Any pool legally defined as a public one is subject to more stringent regulations than private or residential pools.
For example, in South Carolina, dozens of pages specify the regulations that apply to public pools, and they cover everything you could imagine: types of pools, pool construction materials, water quality, water depth, drains, filtration systems, fences, gates, electrical requirements, lighting requirements, signage, lifeguard requirements, and so on. Our state also has local ordinances that can come into play, depending on where you live.
What Are the Dangers?
The number one danger with any pool, of course, is drowning, and people drown in public pools on a regular basis. That is a terrible and sad fact. But, if negligence is involved, a drowning or injury crosses the line from tragic accident to being potentially legally actionable for damages.
Negligence means the carelessness or misconduct of another person or organization that causes injury or death. A negligent act can also include the failure to act if such action would have prevented injury or death.
Drowning deaths involving negligence can occur for a number of reasons:
- Pool drains. Drains that have not been retrofitted or changed to prevent the deadly suction that causes drain entrapment can make a pool owner liable for injury or death. A federal law, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, the primary federal law, strives to prevent drownings arising from the powerful suction of hot tub and pool drains.
- Lack of proper supervision, usually meaning lifeguards. Inattention on the part of a lifeguard, caught on surveillance video, led to the drowning death of a three-year-old in New Jersey.
- Improper or no signage, or a lack of appropriate maintenance. A two-year-old boy drowned in a hotel pool that the Kansas City Health Department later shut down for a dozen violations, including the failure to do reasonable maintenance and repairs and a lack of signage, both of which meant that the hotel did not meet its duty of care (responsibilities) toward the public.
- Fencing and gates. The specifications for fencing and gates are strictly controlled in an effort to keep small, unwatched children out of pool areas. Pools are considered an “attractive nuisance” and vulnerable to trespass by children. A property’s owner has an increased obligation to keep a pool area safe, even if the child is trespassing. Otherwise, they may be held liable.
Non-drowning dangers that can cause injury or death include electrocution. The family of a man who was electrocuted by pool lighting at a hotel’s facility over Labor Day weekend of 2013 reached a settlement with the hotel and the electrical contractor without going to trial. The family claimed gross negligence.
Outbreaks have been on the increase, partly because the parasite is extremely resistant to chlorine and can live for days in the water. Cryptosporidium is spread by those who are sick with the parasite and use a hot tub, spa, or pool. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report detailing 90 outbreaks during the years 2011-2012. At least 1,788 people were affected, with 95 of them requiring hospitalization and one of them dying.
Public Pools and Liability
Generally, premises liability applies, meaning that the owner or owners of a pool owe a duty of care toward those using the pool. Patrons of a public pool are considered “invitees” under the law; thus, pool owners must keep the pool maintained and repaired so that invitees are not harmed or killed.
Public pool owners must obey all applicable regulations; otherwise, they may be found negligent depending on the primary cause of the injury or death. Posting the appropriate signage is often considered sufficient, though it should be noted that signs such as “Swim at your own risk” do not always absolve an owner of responsibility. If there is gross negligence, meaning a serious level of carelessness, or if an action is intentional (such as an employee pushing a guest into the pool, causing the guest to drown), then the owner may be liable.
Liability can be limited when the owner of the pool is a government entity, such as with a municipal pool. In certain cases, the government cannot be sued because it is granted immunity. Obtaining legal advice in such a situation is highly recommended.
When life goes wrong, we fight for what’s right.
In some cases, negligence plays a part in swimming pool accidents, and in those situations the Louthian Law Firm is pledged to help the grieving family find at least some measure of justice from the responsible parties. The Columbia personal injury attorneys at the Louthian Law Firm have represented injured South Carolinians since 1959, and we are committed to protecting your rights.
If you or someone you care about was hurt or killed in a recreational drowning accident in a public pool that you believe was caused by someone else’s negligence, call the Louthian Law Firm today at (803) 454-1200 or contact us online for a free consultation.