Summer is usually a time when thoughts turn to cooling off and leisurely days around a swimming pool (especially during heat waves such as we’ve had here in Massachusetts recently.) That makes perfect sense, but in my view as a Massachusetts swimming pool accident lawyer, not enough people are aware of the dangers of backyard swimming pools – whether in-ground or above-ground. In my career, some of the worst injuries I have seen involve swimming pool injuries. They can pose serious, and even deadly, hazards.
This was recently made clear in the past few weeks, as more than one person has died in Massachusetts swimming pool accidents. These unfortunate events illustrate the inherent risks that are associated with swimming pools. Whether the pool is an in-ground pool or an above-ground portable pool, as a Boston drowning accident attorney, I can assure you they are dangerous.
Tragedies like this illustrate the need to be aware of the dangers that swimming pools represent. In a great many of these types of cases, the injuries and drowning deaths that occur are sustained by children. This is so for a variety of reasons:
• The water is blue and attractive; (in legal parlance, a swimming pool is known as an “attractive nuisance”);
• It is difficult to know exactly how deep a given are of the pool is, because unlike in commercial settings (such as hotels) and with municipal pool settings, there is almost never any signage at the edge of the pool indicating pool depths at particular points along the pool; This increases the odds that neck and back injuries will result when someone jumps into a too-shallow area of a pool. Paralysis injuries are not uncommon.
• The pool is almost always surrounded by concrete or flagstone-type walking surfaces, which are slippery when wet and can cause severe injuries in the form of broken bones and concussions that can result in brain damage
• Often, there is a diving board present, which can result in traumatic injuries when falling the ‘wrong way’
This type of liability general falls under an area of law known as “premises liability”. Legally, property owners in Massachusetts have a legal obligation to provide a safe environment for visitors and guests. In the event of a pool accident, an experienced Massachusetts swimming pool accident attorney should be consulted. Under no circumstances should anyone who has been injured in such an accident, speak to an insurance representative or any other person, until they have spoken first to an experienced Massachusetts premises liability attorney. Swimming pool injuries and deaths involve complex medical and legal issues. When young children are injured, these injuries frequently involve neurological and cognitive impairment that is not always immediately apparent.
Anyone who buys a home with a swimming pool, or puts one in their backyard and thinks there is nothing more they need to do but ‘clean out the bugs’, is making a serious legal mistake. Proper swimming pool safety requires that several measures be taken:
• The area around the pool should be secured from curious children or intruders (usually by a view-obstructing high fence.)
• Supervision appropriate to the ages of the persons using the pool should always be present.
• The water should be regularly maintained for cleanliness and proper chemical balances.
• If a diving board is present, measures need to be taken to keep users from endangering one another.
• Signs pointing out particular hazards or warnings should also be plainly displayed.
The types of injuries suffered in swimming pool accidents usually group as follows:
• Fractures resulting from improper diving or falling on hard, wet surfaces around the pool.
• Head and brain injuries or spinal cord damage resulting from collisions in the pool or unsafe diving conditions.
• Infection or illness caused by unsafe levels of bacteria in the water.
• Toxic reaction to excessive use of chemicals.
• Brain damage resulting from lack of oxygen in near drowning accidents, particularly those involving children.
• Death by drowning.
Rule One for homeowners with a swimming pool: Make sure that your homeowners’ insurance policy provides coverage for liability claims arising from the use or maintenance of your pool. I advise all my clients who have a swimming pool: Make sure that your homeowners’ insurance policy provides adequate coverage for liability claims arising from the use or maintenance of your pool, and communicate with your insurance agent to make certain that you carry adequate liability coverage.
Aside from individual homeowners, potential defendants in a swimming pool accident case commonly include a condominium association, an apartment building owner, a day camp or summer camp operator, a school district or university, or a hotel/motel resort. In some cases, where negligent installation or repair of a pool played a role in the accident, the manufacturer or installer of the pool might be liable as well. Aware of the dangers associated with swimming pools, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is conducting a national Pool Safety Campaign. Click on these links to learn more.
In sum, I’d say this to any owner or operator of a swimming pool, whether residential or commercial: Stay cool this summer. But when it comes to legal measures, be cool in protecting your legal interests. Or things could get a lot hotter than you expected.