Breaking Down Public Swimming Pool Drownings

Many hotel owners, apartment complex owners, and other landowners try to shield themselves from liability in this area by using fancy legal tricks and gimmicks. However, an experienced injury attorney can find ways to permanently close these legal loopholes.

Such ability is important. Most drowning victims suffer permanent and severe brain damage after as little as five minutes underwater, so the injuries are often catastrophic. Furthermore, if a public pool environment is unreasonably dangerous and an experienced attorney does not advocate for the victim, the dangerous environment will most likely persist and there may be future victims.


Physical Hazard

In most cases, New York law sets the pool safety standards for public pools. Some local jurisdictions may have more restrictive rules, and if so, these more restrictive rules apply. These standards are:

  • Fence: A fence or other impenetrable barrier must completely surround the pool, and the fence must be at least four feet high. All gates must have self-latching locks that are operable only from the inside.
  • Water Alarm: Unless the pool has an automatic cover, there must be an audible alarm that goes off whenever someone gets into the water. Some older pools are exempt from this requirement.
  • Rescue Equipment: All pools must have a first aid kit that includes a CPR face shield or pocket mask, a flotation ring with rope, a fifteen foot reaching pole. Larger pools must also have a spine board to immobilize drowning victims.

Moreover, whether they have lifeguards or not, all pool owners must submit safety plans and update them regularly.

Failure to maintain these standards constitutes negligence per se, or negligence as a matter of law. To establish liability in these cases, there must be a connection between the safety hazard and the victim’s damages. So, if a child guest gains after-hours access to a swimming pool because the gate latch is broken, and that child falls in the pool, the hotel owner is probably liable for damages.


“No Lifeguard On Duty” Notices

Such signs do not automatically excuse negligence and shield the pool owner from liability. Instead, these notices raise the possibility of the assumption of the risk defense, which involves the:

  • Voluntary assumption of
  • A known risk.

Voluntary assumption means that victims fully understand the nature and consequences of their acts. Legally, children cannot assume the risk of injury. Moreover, people who do not understand English well or cannot see the sign because it is behind a tree or on a long list of “pool rules” cannot assume the risk.

Drowning in a pool is a known risk, but swimming pool poisoning is probably not a known risk. Many chemicals cause harmful or fatal allergic reactions in abnormally large quantities.

If the jury decides to split liability between the victim and pool owner, the judge will reduce the victim’s damages according to the percentage of fault, because New York is a pure comparative fault state. So, if the damages were $100,000 and the victim was 50 percent responsible, the victim would receive $50,000.


Available Damages

In 2010, hospitalization costs for injury-related stays totaled $375.9 billion. Other medical care, such as followup visits and physical rehabilitation, cost billions more. Injury victims are entitled to compensation for all these expenses, as well as their lost wages and other economic damages.

Some losses, such as pain and suffering, have no pricetag, but victims are still entitled to monetary compensation, because civil judges only have the authority to award money damages and their mission is to place injured victims in the position they would have been in without the property owner’s negligence.

Additional punitive damages are available as well, in some extreme cases.

Those who profit from pool ownership must make their property safe.