Swimming pools can be a lot of fun on a hot summer day, whether you're lounging and floating for a few hours, or playing any number of family water games. But did you know that each year, thousands of people are seriously injured or die in swimming pool accidents? The majority of swimming pool accidents involve drowning, near-fatal submersions, diving mishaps and falls.
Children are particularly at risk for injury. Drowning is the second leading cause of death among children under 14 years old. Children under the age of 5 are the most likely to drown in an unsupervised pool.
Tragically, many of these swimming pool accidents can be prevented.
The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act
The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act is the major federal pool-safety law. It went into effect in 2008 in response to numerous drownings and serious injuries caused by broken, missing or faulty drain covers. The powerful force of the suction caused by a faulty drain cover has been known to entrap a swimmer's hair, body, limbs and clothing, making it impossible to free the swimmer.
Still, There are Problems with Drains
Just as the 2011 the summer season kicked in, several manufacturers recalled their pool and spa drain covers. The covers were incorrectly rated for the amount of water that could flow through the cover, posing threats of entrapment.
Pool and spa owners with the recalled drains were warned by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that it's illegal to resell or try to resell the recalled drain covers.
State and Local Pool Safety Laws
In addition to the federal law, there are state and local pool safety laws that apply to both private and public pools. These laws may require child-resistant fencing, pool alarms, anti-entrapment devices, warning signs, etc. The laws vary by state and locality, so it's important to check the laws in your area to make sure you're doing everything you're legally required to do.
Pool Owner Liability
Owning a pool comes with a lot of responsibility in addition to making sure it's working right. You have a legal duty to make sure the pool is safely maintained. If not, you may be held liable for any injuries or deaths caused by your failure to follow the safety regulations.
Generally, your liability depends on your relationship to the swimmer. Swimmers usually fall into one of three categories:
An invitee is basically a guest who's allowed to enter the pool premises for social reasons, such as a hotel patron using the hotel pool or a party guest who swims in a residential pool at a social gathering. Generally, you must make reasonable inspections of the pool and the surrounding area and warn invitees of dangers you're aware of.
A licensee is a person who's allowed to enter the pool premises for business reasons, for example, to service the pool. You're required to warn a licensee of any hidden dangers in or around the pool.
A trespasser is a person who doesn't have your permission to enter the pool premises. A person who jumps the fence to swim without your knowledge or consent is a good example. As a general rule, you're not responsible for the safety of trespassers on your land - unless you know they use your pool and you do nothing to stop them. In such cases, they may be invitees.
Pool Fencing and Young Children
According to the CPSC, when it comes to very young children, inadequate fencing and lack of supervision are the primary causes of drowning and submersion accidents, particularly in residential pools. Seventy-five percent of children killed or injured in such accidents are between the ages of 1 and 3.
As all parents know, toddlers are inquisitive and can move very fast. By the time a child's absence is noted, the child may have already drowned. According to the CPSC, the best way to reduce child drowning and submersion accidents in residential pools is to install and maintain proper barriers that prevent children from gaining access to the pool.
The CPSC (PDF) has guidelines to help you properly install pool barriers.
Recreational Water Illness and Chemical Injuries
There are health hazards associated with inadequately maintained swimming pools. If the water is not treated properly, swimmers may contract a recreational water illness (RWI). An RWI is an illness that's spread by swallowing, breathing or being in contact with contaminated water in swimming pools and spas.
RWI outbreaks are most often found in public swimming pools, but can also occur in residential pools that are not properly maintained. An RWI can cause illnesses such as gastrointestinal distress, ear or eye infections and respiratory illnesses.
Pool owners must make sure that proper chlorine and pH levels are maintained. Chlorine is needed to kill germs in the water. However, the chemicals needed to prevent an RWI can also cause injuries. Misuse of chemicals, inhaling fumes when handling pool chemicals and splash injuries can all lead to a hospital emergency room visit.
The Centers for Diseaase Control and Prevention (CDC) can help you keep your pool RWI-free.
Enjoying your pool with family and friends is a fun way to spend your summers days and nights. Make sure it's safe for everyone by maintaining your pool and following the safety laws.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How does someone prove how and where a recreational water illness was picked up?
- If I have a pool in my yard, do I have to take steps to keep would-be trespassers out of my yard if the pool is visible from the streets and sidewalks around my house?
- Are there exceptions to compliance under the Virginia Graeme Baker law? Do pools have to post any notices showing compliance with the law?