Swimming Pool Accidents: Causes, Personal Injuries, and Liability

Explore common causes and injuries from swimming pool accidents. Learn how to prove fault if you or a loved one are hurt in someone’s pool.

In just one year, between May and September, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows 163 children under the age of 15 fatally drowned in swimming pools or hot tubs.¹

Of the 163 swimming pool accidents in the CDC report, 112 of the drowning victims (or nearly 70%) were children younger than the age of five.

While swimming pools typically offer entertainment and fun retreats from hot weather, they can cause serious injuries and even wrongful death. Whether it’s from a slip and fall or a dive into shallow water, pools are a common cause of near-drowning and other personal injuries.

If you or your loved one were injured in a swimming pool accident that was someone else’s fault, you have options for seeking compensation for your losses.

Liable pool owners are not limited to private homeowners. You can seek reimbursement for your injuries from hotel owners, waterparks, governmental entities, and others that own or run a public pool.

Keep in mind that fatal drowning and other severe swimming pool injury claims, especially claims involving children, should be handled by an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Causes of Swimming Pool Accidents

While the water inside a pool poses an obvious risk of drowning, the equipment and area surrounding a pool can also create potential hazards.

The most common causes of swimming pool accidents include:

  • Wet surfaces
  • Low water levels
  • Lack of supervision (by a lifeguard, parent, or others)
  • Inadequate warning signs
  • Broken glass in the pool area
  • Missing emergency devices (for example, flotation devices)
  • Faulty or dim pool lights

There are times when you can cause a pool injury on your own. For example, you could contribute to your injury if you were horsing around.

Victims can also help bring about a pool accident by drinking too much alcohol. According to the CDC, alcohol is involved in up to 70% of water recreation deaths among adolescents and adults.

Alcohol use contributes to swimming pool and hot tub accidents because it negatively influences a person’s coordination, judgment, and balance. Many pool visitors also suffer from dehydration from sun exposure. Dehydration works to intensify the effects that alcohol has on a person’s body.

If you helped contribute to your pool accident, you can still receive compensation for your losses. However, your state may have laws in place that work to reduce the overall amount of your payout.

Swimming Pool Personal Injury Types

As with the causes of swimming pool accidents, swimming pool injuries come in various forms.

Common pool-related personal injuries include:

  • Cuts and Broken Bones
  • Brain damage
  • Concussions
  • Head injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Electrocutions
  • Drownings and near-drowning

Swimming pool injuries are very real in the U.S. According to one report, emergency departments treat about 6,400 pool and spa injuries in children younger than the age of 15 every year.

You can take some precautions to prevent drowning accidents and other injuries when enjoying some time at a pool.

You can help prevent pool accidents by:

  • Avoiding swimming alone
  • Checking the water depth before jumping or diving into a pool
  • Choosing not to push or jump on other people
  • Walking carefully on slippery decks and surfaces
  • Avoiding excessive exposure to the sun

Parents can help protect children from pool injuries by:

  • Keeping an eye on their child at all times
  • Enrolling children in age-appropriate swim lessons
  • Getting training in CPR
  • Helping children to avoid playing around drains
  • Checking a pool’s water depth

Proving Liability for Swimming Pool Injuries

When homeowners and businesses open a pool to visitors, they are responsible for keeping the pool safe.

Premises liability laws help determine who is liable when a person is injured on another’s property. Liability means that the owner was responsible for causing your accident and, as a result, must compensate you for your injuries.

In general, you can prove a pool owner is liable for your personal injuries by showing they were negligent, meaning they did something wrong or failed to take reasonable action.

All pool owners share a general duty to reduce the risk of drowning accidents and other injuries. Your main task in proving negligence will be to show an owner violated this duty. You can often show a violation by finding evidence that the owner did not correct an unsafe condition.

A state’s premises liability laws often impose different duties depending on the type of injury victim involved. For example, while a pool owner may owe a high degree of care to a person it invites to its pool, they generally have no duty of care to people who access the pool by trespassing.

Example: Determining a Pool Owner’s Negligence

Lisa, 25, goes to her friend’s home on a warm, sunny day after the friend invited her over. The home has a swimming pool with a diving board.

The friends head out to the pool and Lisa walks over to the board. She stands at its back and gets ready to dive in.  She races forward and jumps in the air. But when she lands back on the board, it remains stationary and doesn’t create any spring.

As a result, Lisa badly strains her knee and falls into the pool. Luckily, her friend was there to help Lisa climb back on the pool’s deck.

After the injury, a local pool company examines the diving board. The company discovers that the wheel underneath the diving board that causes it to spring up and down was cracked. The crack caused Lisa’s injury.

Here, if Lisa decides to file a personal injury claim under her friend’s homeowner’s insurance policy, she’ll have to show that her friend was negligent.

She can likely succeed with her claim since her friend invited her over. This invitation created a duty for the friend to provide Lisa with a reasonably safe pool.

A reasonable swimming pool owner should conduct regular checks of the pool and its equipment, including the diving board. If aware of any hazards, like the broken diving board, the owner is obligated to have the board fixed or warn visitors not to use it.

The pool owner is liable because they should have known of the hazard and taken action to fix it.

The outcome would likely differ if Lisa accessed the pool by trespassing. In most states, property owners don’t owe a trespasser a duty of care. With no enforceable duty, the trespasser couldn’t establish negligence for her injuries. 

Exception for Child Trespassers – Attractive Nuisance

Many states carve out an exception to the general rule prohibiting a duty of care towards trespassers with the attractive nuisance doctrine.

The doctrine says that a child trespasser can bring a legal claim against a property owner for injuries caused by an unsafe object on the land that “attracted” the child or lured them onto the property. Swimming pools are at the top of the list of potential attractive nuisances.

Example of Attractive Nuisance Doctrine

First-graders John and Pam are playing one afternoon and see that a neighbor recently added an in-ground pool in their backyard with a tile deck around it. There is no fence surrounding the pool and no signs warning of a possible hazard.

John and Pam enter the neighbor’s property to take a closer look. As the two get close to the edge of the pool, John slips on the wet tile and breaks his left arm.

In this instance, the neighbor may be liable for John’s injuries under the attractive nuisance doctrine.

John is a young child. He trespassed onto the neighbor’s land because he was attracted by the swimming pool, and he was hurt as a result. The negligent property owner should have tried to prevent injuries by building a fence.

Manufacturers of Defective Pool Products

There are times when a component within a pool causes an injury. For example, pool drains and filters have been known to cause significant injuries.

If a defective pool product causes an accident, then the owner is usually not to blame, unless they actually knew there was a problem.

Rather, the injured victim will file a product liability claim with the manufacturer or installer of the defective product.

Compensation for a Pool Owner’s Negligence

If a pool owner was negligent in causing your accident, they must compensate you for the losses related to your injuries.

You can recover expenses for:

Wrongful Death Claims

If a pool owner’s negligence contributed to a fatal drowning, the decedent’s family member may bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the owner.

A wrongful death lawsuit is an action filed in court to seek monetary compensation for damages from a person (or entity) whose negligence caused another person’s death.

Wrongful death lawsuits may be filed by an attorney on behalf of the decedent’s next-of-kin, or on behalf of the decedent’s estate.

Common Locations for Swimming Pool Accidents

Pool accidents are by no means limited to private pools on residential property. Public pools are a common place for accidents and injuries.

You can suffer an injury in a pool owned by a:

In general, all of these property owners have a duty to make their pools reasonably safe. This duty extends to the pool and the areas surrounding the pool, like changing facilities, snack areas, and showering facilities.

However, state premises liability laws may define this duty a little differently depending on the specific property type and facts of the case.

For example, if an owner opens its pool or hot tub to the public, the people visiting are referred to as “invitees.” Owners owe invitees a duty to make their pool reasonably safe, reduce the risk of drowning, and to maintain and repair their pool so that invitees don’t get injured.

In some situations, a property owner may also have a duty to warn you of pool-related risks that aren’t obvious to the average person. For example, the owner might post a sign indicating the hours when there will be no lifeguard on duty, such as lunch breaks.

Waterparks and Theme Park Pools

If you suffered an injury in a waterpark, contact a personal injury lawyer or law firm for help. This is because you probably signed a liability waiver to gain entry into the park.

A liability waiver is essentially a legal contract between you and the waterpark. If you signed a waiver, it’s likely you agreed to give up your right to hold the waterpark responsible if you were injured in its pool or on its grounds.

Injury liability waivers protect businesses against insurance claims and legal action. A waiver basically relieves the business of any legal blame for your injuries. Waivers also prove that the company warned you of any potential risks related to their facility or taking part in their activities.

If you signed a waiver, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ultimately hold a waterpark liable for your pool accident or a loved one’s fatal drowning. Your signature might just make proving liability more difficult though.

A skilled injury attorney, preferably with experience dealing with the applicable waterpark, is best situated to know whether the waiver you signed is enforceable, or if the park’s owners were egregiously negligent.

Pools Owned by a Government Agency

As with injuries in waterparks, if you’ve suffered an injury at a public pool owned by a governmental entity, it’s a good idea to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney for help.

You can still file an injury claim against the government. However, the process is different and more complex compared to filing a claim against a private party.

For instance, before you can file a claim with the government, you first need to file a notice of claim. There are a few other procedural requirements you have to meet, and some of these are time-sensitive.

If your personal injury claim is not submitted using just the right form, or the form isn’t filled out correctly, you might not have time to fix the error before the claim filing deadline expires.

Duties Imposed by State Laws

In addition to premises liability laws, many state and local governments impose additional legal requirements on pool owners – both public and private.

For example, the Florida Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act imposes specific safety requirements on homeowners that have a pool.

Florida pool owners must: 

  • Surround their pools with a minimum four-foot-tall fence
  • Cover their pool or hot tub when not in use
  • Supervise children who are using their pool

California’s Swimming Pool Safety Act requires pool owners to follow an even more comprehensive set of rules.

According to California’s rules: 

  • Residential swimming pool owners must install a 60-inch access gate on a pool enclosure with self-latching locks
  • Owners must ensure that the surface of this enclosure is free of anything that someone can use as a foothold or handhold
  • Owners must cover suction outlets in a pool with anti-entrapment grates

California law also says that operators of public pools must keep surrounding areas well-maintained.

If you suffered a swimming pool accident because an owner failed to follow state or municipal laws, you can use that failure to help establish a personal injury claim.

Contact a Swimming Pool Injury Lawyer for Help

You can most likely handle your own claim if you recovered from a minor injury and the pool owner is a private residential homeowner. You should be able to file a claim with the owner’s homeowner’s insurance company.

If you or a loved one suffered severe or permanent injuries from a pool accident, you have a high-dollar claim that requires a the expertise of a swimming pool accident lawyer.

Most insurance adjusters intentionally offer less to severe injury victims and drowning victims’ families who are not represented by an attorney. The insurance company relies on the fact that you won’t have the stamina or the legal skills to fight for a fair settlement.

Premises liability claims like swimming pool accidents get complicated when the property owner tries to shift blame for the accident on you or another party.  To protect your own interests, and seek compensation from every party who may be at fault for your injuries, you’ll need a good attorney.

Most injury law firms provide a free case evaluation. You’ll have the opportunity to meet with an attorney to get all your questions answered without spending a dime.

Fortunately, many car accident and premises liability attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. You don’t have to pay legal fees unless the attorney settles your claim or wins your lawsuit in court. There’s no obligation and it costs nothing to get a valuable free consultation about your swimming pool accident claim.

Dustin Reichard, Esq. is an experienced attorney with 20 years of work in the legal field. He’s admitted to the Illinois State Bar and the Washington State Bar. Dustin has worked in the areas of medical malpractice, wrongful death, product liability, slip and falls, and general liability. Dustin began his legal career as a JAG... Read More >>