Duty of Care in Aquatic Facilities: Drowning Fatalities and Injuries
Aquatic facilities, including swimming pools, water parks, and beaches, offer a place for people to enjoy leisure and recreation. However, these environments also pose risks, with drowning being a significant concern.
Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths worldwide, and aquatic facility operators have a critical duty of care to ensure the safety of their patrons and take the necessary steps to prevent drowning fatalities and injuries.
Aquatic Facility Dangers
In most cases, aquatic facilities are recreational venues involving significant water elements. This can include a public pool, private swimming pools, sprawling water parks, and aquatic centers featuring various pools, classes, and other amenities.
These facilities are designed to provide fitness opportunities, as well as fun and relaxing environments. But they also carry significant dangers, especially when these facilities do not fulfill their duty of care.
Drowning Statistics: The Numbers Tell the Story
When it comes to drowning and aquatic injuries, everyone is vulnerable regardless of age, race, or economic status. Drowning can occur quickly and silently. It could happen in as little as 20 to 60 seconds. Still, drowning incidents are woefully underreported in the United States and around the world.
Globally, there are about 320,000 drowning deaths each year, according to the International Lifesaving Federation. Worldwide, drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury, accounting for about 7% of all injury-related deaths.
Additionally, children ages 1 to 4 have the highest global drowning rates, followed by those ages 5 to 9. When it comes to drowning dangers, statistics show that males have twice the overall mortality rate of females.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States:
- An average of 3,500 to 4,000 people drown each year, amounting to an average of 10 fatal drownings each day.
- Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 4 and remains one of the top five causes of such fatalities among children from birth to 5 years old.
- About a quarter (23%) of child drownings occur during a family gathering near a pool.
- Drowning is the cause of death for most boating fatalities.
- Five to 10 people receive hospital-related care for nonfatal drowning injuries for every fatal drowning victim.
Other Pool Injuries
A drowning accident is not the only danger when it comes to pool safety. Many aquatic facilities have slippery surfaces that create a significant slip-and-fall risk.
They also often feature jets, fountains, water slides, diving boards, and other apparatus that can be dangerous when misused. Potential hazards are everywhere, even in shallow-water areas.
The Devastating Impact of a Swimming Pool Accident
Swimming pool accidents and drowning injuries can often result in catastrophic harm to victims, according to Brian Chase, senior partner at Bisnar and Chase, a California personal injury law firm that represents injured victims of negligence and wrongdoing.
According to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, an estimated 5,000 children ages 14 and younger are hospitalized each year for near-drowning: 15% die in the hospital, and up to 20% are left with severe, permanent neurological disabilities or brain damage. In extreme cases, drowning accidents can result in wrongful death.
“These are terrible tragedies that can be prevented,” Chase said. “Property owners, property managers, and those who run aquatic facilities have a duty of care to their patrons and guests.”
Aquatic Facilities’ Duty of Care
Duty of care is a legal concept, which dictates that individuals and organizations are responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of others to a reasonable extent.
In the context of aquatic facilities, this duty of care is paramount. Aquatic facility operators must take comprehensive measures to prevent pool drownings and other injuries, which are often a result of negligence or inadequate safety protocols.
Who Is Responsible?
In most cases, a swimming pool owner, pool manager, or property owner is responsible for ensuring that they have taken the proper safety precautions at their facility.
If a pool is on private property, such as in a backyard, owners are still responsible for ensuring that lawful visitors and users are safe. When a person drowns, an investigation should be carried out to determine whether any actions could or should have been taken that could have prevented the incident.
Pool owners and managers may be liable in the eyes of the law for swimming pool injuries and drowning accidents. Explore our guide to the key aspects of a duty of care below to find out if a pool or property owner could be held liable for a drowning incident.
Elements of the Aquatic Facility Duty of Care
The following are some of the key safety features and actions that must be in place around the pool or facility to prevent a pool injury and protect an owner or manager from legal liability.
One of the most fundamental responsibilities of aquatic facility operators is to ensure adequate supervision. Leaving a pool unsupervised, especially when youngsters are swimming, is very dangerous.
Proper supervision includes having trained lifeguards on duty who are vigilant and responsive to potential drowning situations. Lifeguards must be adequately trained, certified, and regularly updated on their skills and knowledge to ensure they can effectively respond to emergencies and prevent negligent supervision.
Proper safety signage, warning signs, and clear rules for facility usage should be in place, making it easier for patrons to understand the expectations and risks. Adequate staffing levels and rotation schedules for lifeguards are also essential to maintain vigilance throughout the day. This can help prevent drowning accidents and other injuries.
Proper Safety Equipment
Aquatic facilities must provide and maintain appropriate safety equipment, such as lifebuoys, life jackets, and rescue equipment. This equipment should be easily accessible and regularly inspected to ensure functionality.
In case of an emergency, quick access to life-saving devices can make a significant difference in preventing drowning incidents.
Water Quality and Maintenance
The quality and maintenance of the water itself play a crucial role in safety. Adequate water treatment, filtration, and maintenance are necessary to prevent waterborne illnesses and ensure water clarity. Unclean or poorly maintained water can hinder visibility, increasing the risk of accidents. Swimmers should steer clear of any pool with murky water.
Pool Drain Covers
Pools feature drains with powerful suction designed to circulate and filter the water. These are essential in maintaining a clean pool but can create a risk of entrapment. Proper pool drain covers must be fitted to minimize the risk and prevent accidents.
Physical barriers or different layers of safety, such as fences and gates, are important to prevent unauthorized access to the aquatic facility, especially when it is closed. These barriers should be well-maintained and regularly inspected to ensure they function as intended.
Safety Education and Training
Educating patrons about water safety is another key component of the duty of care. Facilities should provide information on the potential risks and guidelines for safe swimming. This education can help patrons understand their responsibilities and how to protect themselves while enjoying the aquatic environment.
Incorporating swimming lessons and water safety courses into the facility’s offerings can also be an effective way to reduce the risk of drowning, especially for children.
Emergency Response Plan
Having a well-defined and rehearsed emergency response plan is crucial. Facility operators should establish clear procedures for handling emergencies, including drowning incidents. This plan should involve communication with emergency services and a designated chain of command to ensure a coordinated response.
Supervision and Vigilance
Lifeguards play a pivotal role in preventing drowning. They must maintain constant vigilance, avoid distractions, and be trained to recognize potential signs of drowning, such as struggling or a distressed look.
Furthermore, lifeguards should be proficient in water rescue techniques and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Protecting Your Rights
If you or a loved one has been injured in an aquatic facility, whether it is a public swimming pool, water park, or club, it is imperative that you take the following steps to ensure that your rights are protected. Here are a few steps you can take:
Seek prompt medical attention. The first and most crucial step is to seek medical attention. Even seemingly minor injuries can have serious consequences, especially in a wet environment where infections can easily occur.
If you’re in severe pain or believe your injury is serious, call 911 or ask someone else to do so. It is essential to have a medical professional assess your injury and provide the necessary treatment as soon as possible.
Notify the staff of the aquatic facility. As soon as possible, inform the aquatic facility staff about your injury. They should be made aware of the incident so they can take appropriate measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Provide them with all relevant details, such as the location and cause of the injury, as well as any witnesses. This is also important from the perspective of documenting the incident as thoroughly as possible.
Collect evidence from the scene. Take photographs of the area where the incident occurred, the cause of the injury, and any unsafe conditions. If there were any witnesses, try to obtain their contact information as well. All of this could be extremely valuable in the event you decide to pursue compensation for your injuries or losses.
Contact your insurance company. If you have health insurance or personal injury protection, contact your insurance company to report the incident and initiate the claims process. They will guide you on the necessary steps to take and the documentation they require.
Contact a lawyer. Not all accidents require legal representation. But if a child drowns, or someone suffers an injury due to the failings of the facility owner or manager, you should seek compensation for your damages and hold the liable parties accountable.
Contact an Experienced Premises Liability Lawyer
If you believe that the injury resulted from negligence on the part of the aquatic facility, its employees, or other related parties, it might be in your best interest to contact an experienced Orange County personal injury lawyer who has experience handling similar cases.
A knowledgeable attorney who has experience dealing with swimming pool accidents and other water facility incidents will be invaluable during this process. At Bisnar Chase, we provide a free consultation so you can explore your options without risk.
When accidents happen on pool property, we identify all parties who may be held liable and help injury victims secure maximum compensation for their suffering. Pool owners have a duty to provide a safe environment and take reasonable actions to prevent injuries. When they fail to do so, turn to our team for superior representation.