While some places have indoor pools and those in warmer states may swim year round, as the weather gets warmer, and summer starts, more and more people are drawn to swimming pools.
When planning a trip to the pool, no one expects to be injured but unfortunately accidents happen. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), after birth defects, drowning is the number one cause of death in children from ages 1-4. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that almost 70% of children who drowned were not supposed to be in, or even near, the pool. Of that 70%, 45% of the children were seen in the house just prior to the drowning.
Drowning is not the only cause of pool accidents. Illness can occur when pool owners do not properly maintain the water and chemicals in a pool. “Recreational water illness” occurs when a swimmer swallows, breathes or touches contaminated water. This can lead to a host of issues including ear infections, eye infections, gastrointestinal issues and breathing issues.
North Carolina, like most states, has a number of laws and regulations in effect in an attempt to limit deaths and injuries from swimming pools.
North Carolina’s Swimming Pool Laws
North Carolina’s Swimming Pool Safety Act requires, among other things, that:
- there be a fence, or other barrier, around all pools. The fence/barrier must be at least 4 feet high with no more than 2 inches between the ground and the bottom of the fence/barrier. The fence/barrier cannot have any gaps of more than 4 inches. The purpose of these restrictions is to prevent a small child from being able to easily slip through a fence/barrier and reach a pool.
- any gate used to get through the fence/barrier must: be able to be locked, open away from the pool, have a latch, and close on its own.
- above ground pools. Fences/barriers can either be at ground level with the pool or attached to the top of the pool. If the fence/barrier is attached at the top of the pool, there cannot be more than 4 inches between the top of the pool and the bottom of the fence/barrier.
- if the pool is located near the wall of a house, and that wall will be used as one side of a fence/barrier, the pool has to have a powered safety cover on it. In addition, if there is a door on that wall it has to have an alarm that triggers when the door opens. The alarm must be able to be heard throughout the house and has to alarm for 30 seconds.
A number of counties and cities in North Carolina also have pool safety ordinances. For example, in Charlotte, North Carolina, the pool ordinance requires, among other things, that:
- permission be granted to construct or modify a swimming pool
- pools not in use, such as at the end of the season, be maintained in a way that prevents the development of unsafe conditions (like treating or keeping the water clean), injury or possible drowning (like emptying the water)
- pools be completely enclosed by a fence, wall or other enclosure at a minimum height of 44 inches.
In 2008, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act (VCBA) became effective. It was passed after the 7-year old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker, drowned in a spa when she was trapped under the water by the suction of a drain. It requires, among other things, that:
- all US swimming pool and drain spa covers conform to the American National Standard ASME A112.19.8-2007
- public swimming pools and spa’s have drain covers that conform to the American National Standard ASME A112.19.8-2007
- public pools and spas with one main drain have one or more devices to prevent suction entrapment
The law was passed, in part, wiith the hope that states and cities, like Charlotte, would impose additional restrictions on pool owners.
Who Is Liable If You Are Injured in a Swimming Pool?
There are different kinds of liability. Someone who is injured in a car accident might have a personal injury claim against the driver of the car who caused the accident. In the case of a swimming pool injury, generally premises liability applies.
Premises liability occurs when you are injured on someone else’s property due to a hazard on that property. Property owners have a duty of reasonable care to visitors to their property. Property owners duty of reasonable care involves maintaining the property so it is free from hazards and warning a visitor if a dangerous condition is present.
Under the premises liability theory, the pool owner, whether it be a business like a hotel, or an individual, has a reasonable duty of care to any guests. Pool owners are expected to inspect the pool and the surrounding areas and fix any unsafe conditions, or warn guests about any hazards.
One of the easiest ways to show liability on the part of the pool owner is to show that he/she violated a provision of one of the laws or ordinances regulating pools.
Premises liability would not apply in a swimming pool injury case if the pool owner acted negligently, or intentionally, towards a guest who was using the pool. For example, if the pool owner purposely jumped onto you and you were injured. In that case, a personal injury lawsuit could be filed.
What if the Injured Party Did Not Have Permission to Be on the Property?
The owner of the pool may still be liable, but if someone was trespassing on the property, meaning they were not invited onto the property, and if the pool owner was in compliance with applicable pool laws, the likelihood of the pool owner being found negligent decreases.
Swimming pools are often called an “attractive nuisance” meaning that they are attractive to people who don’t have permission to use them. This is particularly true in the case of children and swimming pools. As a result, pool owners are expected to keep their pools safe at all times even for those who don’t have permission to be there.
Our Charlotte, North Carolina Liability Lawyers Are Available to Review Your Case
If you or a loved one was injured in a swimming pool accident, the Charlotte, NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced attorneys who can help you understand your rights and who is liable for your injuries. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.