California’s pleasant climate allows us to enjoy our pools most of the year. But if we don’t take precautions, they can also be very dangerous. Every year thousands of people drown in swimming pool accidents. Even more worrying is that the youngest and most vulnerable in our society are much more likely to die by drowning. Drowning is the second leading cause of death among children under the age of 14, according to the CDC.
Many of these pool drownings could be prevented if swimming lessons were more readily available and pool owners took proper safety precautions. If you were injured or lost a loved one in a swimming pool accident, call the personal injury attorneys at The Dominguez Firm now at 800-818-1818 for a free consultation.
What follows is more information about pool accidents, and what your rights are if you or a family member are injured in a pool accident.
Who is Responsible for a Swimming Pool Drowning?
The legal question of who is responsible for a swimming pool drowning depends on the specific facts of each case.
The first factor to consider is who owns and operates the pool. Most of the time, it’s the owner of the property where it’s located. Pool accidents are personal injury cases, specifically within what is legally called premises liability. There are three possible situations:
Privately Owned Swimming Pools
If the pool is on private property, the pool owner may be liable for any injuries that occur in their pool under the law. Landlords have what is called a “duty of care” in relation to visitors to their property; in other words, they have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of guests and to take proper safety precautions to avoid accidents and injuries.
This duty increases when someone employed by the owner, such as a gardener is on the property. Owners also have an additional duty of care when minors are on their property. They must ensure that all children are supervised around the pool. If, for example, you invite your neighbors to a barbecue and one of their children accidentally drowns in your pool, you may face a negligence lawsuit from the child’s parents.
To successfully sue, the plaintiff must show that the pool owner was negligent in his duty to care for their guests. That is, negligence occurred when someone did not do what a reasonable person should have done in a given situation.
An owner may be found to have been negligent if, for example, they failed to install fencing around their in-ground pool, they failed to provide adequate supervision for guests, or they did not properly maintain their pool.
If an adult 18 years of age or older enters the owner’s pool uninvited, in other words, a trespasser, they generally do not have the right to sue if they are injured. Their family also cannot sue the owner if the trespasser drowns in the pool. However, if the trespasser is a minor, their family has the right to sue the property owner. Swimming pools are considered an “attractive nuisance”, and pool owners have a duty to care for minors, even if they have entered the property illegally. Private pool owners should take steps to prevent access by underage intruders.
Publicly Owned Swimming Pools
Technically, public pool operators are subject to the same premises liability as private pool owners; however, many public pool operators will require guests sign a liability waiver to enter the pool. Another common practice is for public pool owners to post signs that state pool users waive liability. If there is a sign, patrons won’t usually be asked to sign a paper waiver.
Whether or not these waivers are legally enforceable is an open and contested question. Many times, they are not. An experienced swimming pool accident attorney from The Dominguez Firm can review your situation to see if you can file a claim against the owner. Including language such as “users disclaimer” can be misleading. In some cases, pool guests can still file a successful lawsuit, even if they signed a waiver or there was a sign. This is especially true if the victim was injured or died due to an intentional act, which could also be considered a criminal case.
Government Swimming Pool
Government pools, such as those run by the municipal Department of Parks and Recreation, are subject to the same property liability principles as pools on private property. However, a private citizen cannot directly file a conventional civil claim against the government. Instead, he must follow the protocols set forth in the California Damage Claims Act specifically related to claims filed against government entities. This process is very different from a conventional lawsuit, which includes a much shorter deadline and certain restrictions. Again, it’s always best to consult with an attorney at The Dominguez Firm before filing any type of legal claim.
Common Causes of Swimming Pool Drownings
Swimming pool drownings can be caused by a variety of factors, most of which are entirely preventable. According to the CDC, men, children, and African Americans have the highest risk of unintentional drowning.
Some of the most common immediate causes of swimming pool drownings include:
- Lack of swimming ability. Over-confident swimmers may exceed their physical capacities, or untrained swimmers may lack understanding of the risks involved. Most schools do not require swim classes, and underserved communities don’t have access to public pools at all, contributing to the high numbers of non-swimmers and increasing drowning risk in these communities.
- Lack of protective barriers or fencing around the pool. Especially in the case of in-ground pools, children or inattentive adults may not see the pool and accidentally fall in.
- Lack of supervision. This is especially the case with young children who do not yet know how to swim. While you don’t necessarily need a licensed lifeguard on duty 24/7 at your home pool, you do need to be sure that someone always has their eyes on any children in the vicinity of the pool.
- Slip-and-falls. Lifeguard warnings that pool-goers not run on the deck are well-warranted. Decks are often made of materials that can be slippery when wet, and victims are at risk of hitting their head on the hard surface if they fall. Such head trauma may result in loss of consciousness, which can significantly increase the risk of drowning.
- Panic while in the water. Very often, unconfident swimmers will panic while in the water. This panic can lead to hyperventilation and thrashing movements that increase the likelihood that the swimmer will inhale water or sink below the surface.
- Concussions, seizures, or heart attacks. Sometimes, swimmers will suffer an unrelated health event while in the water, leading to water inhalation and temporary paralysis.
- Use of alcohol or other impairing substances around a pool. Excessive alcohol consumption is one of the leading cases of accidental drownings among adults and adolescents. Alcohol impairs judgment, slows reaction times, and significantly affects coordination and basic motor skills—all factors that significantly increase the risk of drowning.
Compensation for Swimming Pool Drownings
As with all personal injury claims, victims injured in non-fatal drowning incidents can expect to be compensated based on the seriousness of their injuries both economically and emotionally. In general, a victim can claim compensation for:
- Medical bills, including post-emergency follow-up appointments
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Psychiatric counseling
- Loss of wages
- Loss of earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Permanent disfigurement
- Loss of consortium (if the claimants injuries impact her ability to enjoy companionship, moral support, or intimacy with her spouse or domestic partner)
In incidents involving a drowning death, the victim’s family may file a wrongful death claim. A wrongful death lawsuit may claim compensation for:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Income that the deceased would have earned, had they not passed away.
- Loss of support and companionship
The legal team at The Dominguez Firm is experienced in handling swimming pool drowning cases and can advise you of your best options for pursuing legal compensation.
Swimming Pool Drowning and Injury Statistics
- Approximately 3,500 Americans die each year in drowning incidents—that’s roughly 10 drowning deaths per day.
- Drowning is the second leading cause of death for toddlers aged 1 to 4 and children ages 10 to 14.
- Approximately 830 children under 14 die per year in drowning accidents.
- Approximately 3,600 children per year suffer non-fatal drowning related injuries.
- More than half of drowning victims treated in emergency room require hospitalization or further care
- California had the third-highest number of fatal child pool and spa drownings during the summer of 2018—behind Texas and Florida.
What Should You Do After a Swimming Pool Drowning or Injury Accident?
With any sort of accident resulting in traumatic injury, time is of the essence. The quicker you act, the better the outcomes for the injury victim.
- Call 911 or seek medical attention. Have someone call 911 immediately and provide a full accounting of the situation. If you are at a pool with a lifeguard, they will be trained in CPR and first aid. This sort of training is required for many professions and activities, so inquire widely as to whether anyone is CPR trained. *Note: avoid administering CPR if you are untrained, as you may cause additional harm to the victim.
- Get contact information from everyone on the scene or who may have witnessed the incident. If the accident occurred at a public pool, request to file an incident report with the management. Take photographs of the deck and pool area where the incident took place, including any possibly defective equipment that may have contributed to the accident. Consider filing a police report, especially in cases of wrongful death or gross negligence on the part of the pool operator.
- Once the victim has been stabilized, document all injuries that resulted from the accident. Take photographs of visible injuries and take notes of any non-visible symptoms. Be sure to keep copies of all documentation you receive related to the victim’s treatment, including medical bills, diagnostic test reports, prescription information, emergency room records, etc. Consider keeping notes relating to all conversations you have with doctors or medical professionals, police officers, witnesses, and related parties.
- Contact an experienced swimming pool drowning attorney immediately. Make sure you have all the documentation related to the accident available for your attorney. Do not speak to representatives of any insurance company without your attorney present. The Dominguez Firm brings decades of experience in personal injury cases. We can help you build a strong legal claim, as well as navigate the complicated claims process.
What if the Injury or Drowning Happened at a Friend or Family Member’s Home?
An already difficult situation is made even more so when an accident occurs at the home of a friend or family member. Unfortunately, research suggests that guests at friends’ or family members’ pools are up to six times more likely to experience a drowning incident than at a public pool. This may be because we feel safe in the spaces and company of trusted intimates and therefore let our guards down.
So how should you handle the aftermath of a drowning injury that occurs at a friend’s or family member’s home? If the property owner carries homeowner’s insurance, then their policy may cover accidental injuries on their property.
If they do not carry an insurance policy or their policy doesn’t cover the accident, and you are unable to come to a settlement privately, your only recourse to collect compensation would be through filing a legal claim. This, of course, presents unique challenges to your personal relationships.
Ultimately, the decision about whether to pursue a legal claim is highly personal. Should you choose to pursue a legal or insurance claim, consult with a personal injury attorney right away.
Call the Pool Accident Lawyers at The Dominguez Firm
A pool accident claim can be very complex. Generally, you have to prove the negligence or recklessness of a private person or entity, such as a sports club.
In other cases, if a public entity, such as city, county, or school is involved, you must adhere to strict deadlines and the need for additional documentation.
If you or a loved one were injured or died as a result of a swimming pool accident, call The Dominguez Firm for a free consultation at 800-818-1818. We are experienced pool accident injury attorneys who will fight for the justice and compensation you deserve. And we promise: if there is no recovery, there is no fee!