Owning a swimming pool is a great responsibility. On top of ensuring that the pool is in proper working order, you also need to make sure it’s safely maintained. Pool owners, be it a homeowner, private club, or public pool, can face potential liability claims when visitors to the pool are injured. Liability is not automatically implied, however, it depends on the owner’s relationship to the swimmer. For liability purposes, the swimmer would fall into one of three types of “entrants” to the property: invitees, licensees, and trespassers. The degree of care owed by the owner to each type of entrant may shift, but the swimming pool owner’s duty broadly states that the pool must be reasonably safe for anticipated use.
An invitee is a person entering the property under an express or implied invitation from the landowner, such as hotel guests or visitors to public pools. These “entrants” are owed the highest duty of care. The property owner must maintain and repair the swimming pool as to prevent injuries to guests. They must also warn invitees of non-obvious dangerous conditions, for example, if a pool is too shallow for diving or has hidden obstructions. Also, the owner of a swimming pool open to invitees, such as a club or hotel, could be liable for failing to provide emergency safety equipment like life preservers. Also, equipment like ladders, diving boards and drains must not fall into a state of disrepair without adequate warning to visitors. Generally there is no duty to warn about obvious dangerous conditions such as, “no running around the pool.”
A licensee is a person who’s allowed to enter the premises with the landowner’s express or implied permission for his or her own purposes rather than the landowner’s benefit. Social guests, visiting relatives, and business visitors would be considered licensees. The property owner is required to warn a licensee of any hidden dangers in or around the swimming pool that creates an unreasonable risk of harm if it is known to the owner and not likely to be discovered by the licensee. They do not owe licensees a duty of care to protect a licensee he or she knows is on the property.
Trespassers are people not authorized to be on the property or who enters without permission. A trespasser is not owed a duty of care other than intentional harm. An exception to this rule is when the trespasser is a child. If the trespasser is a child, the owner, under the “attractive nuisance doctrine” must keep the swimming pool safe from young children who do not understand the dangers of drowning. This would include preventing access to the pool, such as, a fence. This doctrine applies on a state by state basis.
Premises liability does not apply if an injury is caused by intentional or negligent behavior. In those cases criminal and tort law would apply. There is also the risk of contributory and comparative negligence rules and the assumption of risk, which is a subject for a different blog.
To keep swimmers safe and avoid a premises liability suit, it’s always best to make sure your swimming pool is maintained and in good working order, doesn’t fall into the “attractive nuisance” category, and is free from unseen hazards as well.