When the weather turns hot, a backyard swimming pool is a great feature of any home. Pools are great for a quick dip to cool off, pool parties with friends and family, or just quiet relaxation. But you do need to know what you’re getting into.
If you do have a backyard pool, you’re assuming some extra responsibility. If someone has a swimming pool accident, you (the pool owner) can be held liable if a guest is injured.
Every state has specific laws in this area, so it’s best to always refer to these laws. In this post, I’ll break down the general duties of a pool owner, and what you can do to prevent swimming pool accidents.
When is a pool owner liable for injuries?
As a general rule, an owner of a private pool has a duty to warn those using the pool of any dangers that aren’t open and obvious. If the pool owner is aware of the fact that the pool slide or diving board is broken, he or she should warn guests of this or make repairs.
In many states, especially warm weather climates where pools are accessible year-round, a pool owner must take specific actions to protect children in and around the pool.
For example, in North Carolina, state code requires that below ground swimming pools have four-foot fencing surrounding them, and the fence openings can’t be any larger than four inches. Pool gates also are required to be self-latching and must unlatch from the inside of the pool area.
In addition, a pool owner can be legally liable for injuries to children who are invited to use a pool but aren’t adequately supervised.
What is the attractive nuisance doctrine?
States that adhere to the attractive nuisance doctrine require private pool owners to keep a pool safe from being accessed by any young children—invited or not—because small children don’t understand the danger of drowning. The pool owner must have a fence or other barrier to keep young children from falling into the pool.
In North Carolina, a private pool owner will be liable for a child’s injury that’s sustained if the child was “attracted” to the swimming pool due to the child’s expected curiosity. For example, a kid is walking by you house and sees the pool in your backyard, and says, “Hey, look at swimming pool…Let’s go!”
An “attractive nuisance” is defined as an artificial condition that’s highly dangerous to trespassing children. In addition to a backyard swimming pool, this may include a trampoline, machinery, or an abandoned refrigerator.
Children are thought of as innocent by the law, so they typically can’t appreciate danger. As a result, they can’t be held negligent and contributorily negligent in North Carolina. So, if a child is injured at your pool, no part of the blame will be attributed to him or her.
How does an injured pool accident victim prove that a pool owner is liable
If you’re the owner of the pool, you have a duty to provide a safe environment for those who use the pool and any trespassers.
If you fail to follow state laws and city ordinances for pool safety, maintenance, and security of your pool, you could be legally responsible for any injuries caused by your negligence.
A pool accident victim would be required to prove four elements:
- You (the pool owner) owed them a duty of reasonable care at your pool
- You breached the duty of care by your actions or inaction
- Their injury was a direct result of your breach of duty
- They suffered damages
Pool injuries and premises liability?
An injury at your backyard pool would typically fall under the doctrine of premises liability, and these laws determine who (if anyone) is liable when a certain condition or use of a property causes an injury.
For example, a pool repairman would be owed a duty of care that’s less than a guest you invited to your home. On the other hand, a pool owner would owe a trespasser little or no duty of care, other than to not cause the person intentional harm (But again, a child trespasser is owed more care.).
As an example, North Carolina law requires the same standard of care for pool owners to all lawful visitors, which is the duty of reasonable care not to unnecessarily expose them to a dangerous situation and to warn them of any hidden dangers.
But the attractive nuisance doctrine again requires private pool owners to keep a pool reasonably safe from being accessed by young children.
Should you have extra insurance for your pool?
As a homeowner, your homeowner’s insurance policy will cover your swimming pool because it includes liability coverage, which helps pay for expenses if a guest is injured at your pool.
However, you may consider adding an extra layer of protection by purchasing a personal umbrella policy. This provides liability coverage above the limits of your homeowners policy.
This type of insurance starts after you’ve exhausted the required underlying insurance amount of your homeowners policy. Again, pools are usually covered by a homeowner’s insurance policy, but some pool owners will add coverage to make sure they have the right amount of protection in place for an area of the home that creates a larger-than-usual risk.
How can I protect against drownings as a pool owner?
Preventing accidental drownings and other accidents around your backyard pool requires constant and close supervision of pool occupants—particularly especially children.
Following state and local safety requirements can also prevent pool drownings. This can include a pool covering, a fence or barrier, self-latching gates, door alarms, as well as proper maintenance of the pool, pool deck, and the entire area surrounding the pool.
6 tips to reduce the risk of accidental drowning at your home pool
To reduce drowning, a good starting point is to simply have good pool supervision as well as a pool covering, a fence or barrier, self-latching gates, and door alarms that help prevent accidents from happening.
In addition, these steps can be taken to also minimize the risks:
- You and your family should know and be certified in CPR and first aid
- Keep rescue equipment in good working order and readily accessible by the pool
- When done using the pool, remove pool toys so that children aren’t tempted by them
- Ask your guests to help supervise their children when visiting
- Don’t let those who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol use the pool
- Don’t rely on posted warning signs like “Swim At Your Own Risk” or “No Lifeguard on Duty” to protect you from personal liability (a sign won’t insulate you from a lawsuit if someone is injured or drowns in your pool).
In conclusion, a pool can be a great addition to your backyard, but with that comes responsibility. Be smart and do your research when installing one, and always make sure any structure or deck you create is up to code based on local and state regulations.
From a liability perspective, always be sure to take educate yourself and take necessary precautions insurance-wise, as well as installing the proper equipment.
While it’s a fun addition to any home, a backyard swimming pool should be made as safe as possible for you, your family, guests, and any trespassing children who may wander by.
About the author
Kurt R. Mattson is the President of Union Legal Research. He has spent more than 35 years in the legal services industry as a research attorney, writer, editor, and marketer.Reach Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with him on LinkedIn and read his blog at theulr.com/blog.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is purely informational and should not be used without consulting a legal professional in your country or state. Waterfront Central makes no guarantees and is not liable for any legal related consequences resulting from basic information given in this post.