Swimming Pool Liability in California
Swimming pool accidents occur more often than most people realize. In the US, drowning is the fifth-leading cause of death by unintentional injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among children one to four, drowning deaths occur most often in home swimming pools.
If you own a swimming pool in California, you must take steps to meet certain safety obligations. Otherwise, you could be liable for accidents, injuries, drownings and deaths that occur on your property. Understanding California’s swimming pool liability laws can help you protect yourself – both as a pool owner and a swimmer on someone else’s property.
Homeowner’s Duty of Care
A duty of care is a legal phrase that refers to a person or party’s legal requirement to act in a manner that is reasonable. In premises liability law, the duty of care imposed is the same amount a reasonable person would exercise in the same or similar circumstances. If a party fails to fulfill his or her duty of care, that party is legally responsible for related injuries.
In California, all home and property owners have specific duties of care. The legal term for this duty of care is premises liability. A homeowner’s duties of care change according to the classification of the person visiting the property. There are three classifications of property visitors, each with varying degrees of homeowner responsibility:
- An invitee is the highest level of guest. It is a person with an express or implied invitation to enter a property for the owner’s benefit, such as a customer at a store. Homeowners owe invitees the duties to inspect a property for unknown defects, repair known defects or hazards, and warn visitors of injury risks.
- A licensee also has permission or legal authorization to be on a property, but he or she does so for reasons of his or her own. An example is a door-to-door salesperson entering someone’s property to sell a product. Homeowners owe licensees the same duties of care as invitees, minus the need to search for unknown hazards.
- A trespasser is someone who does not have the owner’s permission to be on a property. A homeowner does not owe a trespasser any duties of care unless he or she is underage. If a trespasser is under the age of 18, a homeowner will owe him or her the same duties of care as an invitee.
It is a homeowner’s duty to take reasonable steps to make sure his or her property is safe. This includes taking steps to make a swimming pool safe. If a pool owner in California commits an action or omission that breaches, or violates, his or her duty of care, that homeowner will be legally responsible for a related swimming pool accident.
A Pool is an Attractive Nuisance
It is important to note that a swimming pool is an attractive nuisance in the eyes of the law. An attractive nuisance is a dangerous element on your property that is enticing or attractive to others. Since children and strangers are tempted to enter your property and use the pool, with or without your permission, you have a higher responsibility for its safety. Owning a swimming pool means an injured party can hold you liable for an injury even if he or she was trespassing.
Are Pools Covered by Homeowner’s Insurance?
If a swimming pool accident takes place on a homeowner’s property in California, that person’s homeowners insurance will typically pay for related damages. A general homeowners insurance policy covers accidents that take place in swimming pools. This refers to liability insurance for someone’s injuries or death in an accident, not property damage to the swimming pool in a covered event such as a storm.
Experts recommend that homeowners purchase at least $500,000 as the bare minimum for liability insurance. In the event of a covered accident, a homeowners insurance policy will cover the victim’s medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, property repairs, and other losses. It may also offer death benefits to surviving family members, including money to cover funeral and burial costs in the event of a death on the property.
California Swimming Pool Safety Act
Under the California Health and Safety Code Article 2.5, also known as the Swimming Pool Safety Act, all single-family home owners with swimming pools or spas on their properties must implement at least two of seven listed drowning prevention safety features:
- An enclosure (fence, wall or another barrier) that isolates the swimming pool from access to the home.
- An approved removable mesh fence with a self-closing and self-latching lockable gate.
- An approved safety pool cover.
- Alarms on doors that provide direct access to a swimming pool.
- A self-closing and self-latching device placed no lower than 54 inches above the floor on any door in a home with access to a swimming pool.
- An alarm that sounds upon entrance into the water of a swimming pool.
- Other means of protection, as long as it protects as much or more than any of these features.
The Swimming Pool Safety Act does not apply to public swimming pools, apartment complexes or residential settings other than single-family homes.
Safety Recommendations for Pool Owners
If you have a swimming pool on your property, take certain steps to keep it as safe as possible for both invited guests and trespassers, including children.
- Obey the Swimming Pool Safety Act by properly enclosing your pool.
- Keep all access doors and gates to a swimming pool locked.
- Install an alarm that alerts you when someone has entered the water.
- Keep your pool area clear from obstacles and hazards.
- Check your pool for defects, such as broken drain covers.
- Teach all children in your household how to swim early.
- Never allow children to swim alone.
- Get CPR training so you can help in an emergency.
Maintaining a safe swimming pool can protect you from liability for a pool-related injury. More importantly, it can prevent swimming pool disasters from happening in the first place.
What to Do If You Sustain a Pool Injury on Another’s Property
If you were injured in a swimming pool on someone else’s property, contact a Los Angeles premises liability lawyer. You may be entitled to benefits from the owner’s insurance company if he or she failed to fulfill his or her duty of care. A lawyer can review your case and let you know if you have grounds for a lawsuit.