Modified: December 12, 2022

Some Duties California Public Pool Operators Owe Swimmers?

California is notoriously popular for its sunny days and cool swimming pool activities. As you fly across the state in an airplane, you can see millions of blue opals sparkling in a mix of dusty greenery and concrete. These shiny “blue opals” that you see from the sky are more than 1.18 million residential pools in California and do not include the public and government-owned pools across the state. Below, our world famous, award winning swimming pool accident lawyer and childhood wave surfer, Michael Ehline, Esq., explains your rights duties and obligations when it comes to a swimming pool.

It would be an understatement to say that Californians love swimming pools, and they’re everywhere. However, without proper safety precautions and maintenance, a swimming pool can become a dangerous place to be for both children and adults.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, drowning is the 5th leading cause of death by unintentional injury. Drowning is the number one cause of unintentional death among children aged one to four years old. Between the years 2005 and 2014, approximately 3,536 people died each year from swimming pool accidents. That’s about 10 deaths per day.

Around 74% of the fatal swimming pool accidents occurred at residential locations, and 67% of drowning deaths involved children aged three years or younger. The CDC states that for every child drowned in the country, there are five more that suffer injuries from swimming pool accidents, out of which 27% suffer injuries while swimming at public swimming pools.

These statistics alone are enough to cause some concerns among parents about their kids’ swimming activities and ensure the safety of their children. Fortunately, California has laws in place for pool owners to follow to prevent any accidents or injuries from occurring at their swimming pools. Injured victims can pursue a civil lawsuit against pool owners who do not follow state laws.

Ehline Law and our personal injury attorneys work closely with injured victims to protect their rights and recover maximum compensation for their losses. We can not undo your injuries, but we can fight to recover money to pay for the damages and help you move on with your life.

The California Swimming Pool Safety Act

The California Swimming Pool Safety Act mentions the seven different types of drowning prevention safety features, and all single-family homeowners who have a swimming pool must ensure at least two of the mentioned safety features.

The seven drowning prevention safety features include:

  • The private pool must have some sort of fencing or wall to ensure it is only accessible to the home and its occupants.
  • Homeowners should have an approved safety pool cover over their swimming pool.
  • The swimming pool must have a removable mesh fence that comes with a self-latching lockable gate.
  • Installing alarms on doors that provide direct access to the pool.
  • Any door in the house that offers access to the swimming pool should have a self-latching device about 54 inches from the ground.
  • Install an alarm that alerts the house occupants immediately when someone steps into the pool.
  • Any other protective measure that offers similar levels of protection or more than the safety precautions mentioned above.

It is important to note that the California Swimming Pool Safety Act only applies to single-family homeowners with a pool and not to public swimming pools, apartment complexes, or any other type of residential living.

Reach out to a California swimming pool accident lawyer to learn more about the California Swimming Pool Safety Act if you suffered injuries in a pool at a single-family home.

Common Causes of Swimming Pool Accidents

Several scenarios can lead to swimming pool accidents, but some of these are pretty common across California.

Here are the common causes of swimming pool accidents in California.

Inadequate Fencing

Any pool in California, regardless of size, shape, or construction, requires a pool fence. Pool owners must install fencing around the pool to prevent access to trespassing children and must have a lockable gate. California deems swimming pools as an attractive nuisance, meaning that kids find swimming pools attractive, which increases the risk of drowning when there is an inadequate or complete lack of supervision.

Children find swimming fun, and they do not think about all the pool hazards or dangers of unsupervised swimming. Fencing can help prevent children from accessing the pool and putting themselves in harm’s way. A lack of fencing is a ground for liability under Californian law.

Chemical Burns

Pool owners use all sorts of chemical products to keep their pools clean and sanitized. These chemicals bring the pool water to a PH level safe enough for swimming. However, pool owners must ensure that they properly handle and store the cleaning equipment and chemicals to prevent children from getting into contact with them.

Pool cleaning chemicals, when not diluted in water are strong enough to cause severe chemical burns, especially on children, since their skin is more sensitive than an adult’s. Liability for chemical burns caused by these chemicals lies with the pool owners, regardless of whether it is a public or private pool.

In some situations, the pool owner may not actually handle and store the chemicals but outsource that job to a pool maintenance company that visits the site for cleaning. If a person suffers from chemical burns at the pool due to improper handling of chemicals by the pool maintenance company, they can hold them responsible for their injuries.

Negligent Supervision

All public pools, including some private pools, must always have a lifeguard on duty when people are using the pool. The lifeguard is there to enforce the rules of using the pool and supervise the users to prevent any accidents from occurring at the pool.

If the lifeguard fails to notice any danger at the pool or if they fail to help a distressed individual, there may be a legal case based on negligent supervision.

Liability for Swimming Pool Accidents

What if you suffer injuries in a swimming pool accident? Who is liable then?

In most cases, the liability for a swimming pool accident depends on the premises liability law of the state where the accident occurred. Regardless of whether the pool is public or private, injured victims can hold the pool owner responsible for any accidents under the rules of premises liability.

However, public pool owners must comply with federal and state laws pertaining to pool safety and safety equipment.

In some states, there is a higher standard of care towards invitees and licensees, while in other states, the dangerous conditions, the behavior of the pool owner, and the injured person are all taken into account to determine liability. That said, both types of states must ensure that their pools are reasonably safe for swimming.

In some states and municipal laws, a swimming pool owner must take additional steps to maintain safety for its pool users, such as fencing or installing depth markers. These laws apply to both public and private pool owners, helping establish the pool owner’s duty of care.

Liability for Public Pools

In states that offer special care towards invitees and licensees, public pool owners must maintain their pools, repair any damage, and remove any potential hazards that could cause harm to them. Invitees are the members of the public who are invited to use the pool, and these groups of people are owed a higher standard of care.

If an invitee suffers injuries in the pool due to the lack of safety equipment, then the public pool owner is liable. These owners are also liable for any broken equipment or insufficient lifeguards that result in injuries to the pool users.

Public pool owners are also liable if they fail to follow state laws that result in injuries or death to the users. For example, if the state requires fencing around the pool and there is no fencing, resulting in the drowning of a child, the pool owner will be responsible for the wrongful death due to their negligence.

Besides following state and federal regulations, public pool owners are under the obligation to provide warnings to their users about any hidden dangers. For example, if one side of the pool is too shallow for diving, it must warn its users about it to prevent any injuries.

Liability for Private Pools

Private pool owners have the obligation to warn their guests and licensees of any hidden dangers. For example, private pool owners must warn their guests if the pool has a broken ladder or repair it to prevent any accidents from happening.

Private pool owners, if they invite children over for events to use the pool, are liable for any injuries to the children due to lack of supervision or safety precautions.

When it comes to trespassers, pool owners do not owe any duty to them other than to avoid inflicting intentional harm on them. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as trespassing children.

According to the attractive nuisance doctrine, property owners have a duty to treat trespassing children the same as invitees. If a property owner owns a pool, they must take reasonable care to eliminate potential dangers and provide adequate warning to prevent children from using the pool or getting injured.

Since children do not understand the dangers of drowning, public and private pool owners in states following the attractive nuisance doctrine must ensure that their pool is safe and take measures to prevent children from using it.

Liability for Government-owned Pools

Public swimming pools and government-owned pools are not the same, as the municipal Parks & Recreation Department directly operates government pools. It may be surprising to know that premises liability law applies to government-owned pools, but injured victims cannot file a direct civil claim against the government.

If you suffer injuries at a government-owned pool due to no fault of your own, you can file a lawsuit according to the California Tort Claims Act, under the claims against government section. The procedure is different than a regular lawsuit, and unlike personal injury claims, you do not have much time to pursue legal action against the responsible government agency.

Injured victims can file an administrative claim within six months following the date of the accident. The government then has 45 days to respond to the claim, whether they want to approve it or decline it. If the department rejects their claim, injured victims can pursue a lawsuit within six months following receiving the claim denial letter.

Filing a claim or lawsuit against the government is oftentimes complicated. Talk to a personal injury lawyer to understand the legal options you have and the important deadlines to follow.

The liability pertaining to different types of pools can help you understand the situation you’re in. However, at times, an injury situation can be a little more complex, just like the one we’re about to explain.

Let’s look at the Johnson V. City of Oakland case, who won the case, and on what basis they secured a win.

Johnson V. City of Oakland: Death at a Public Pool

In August 2015, Williams and her sister, Glenda Johnson, visited the local pool for a quick swim. Upon climbing out of the pool, Williams fell onto the pool deck. The three lifeguards saw what happened and immediately assisted Williams onto her feet and walked her to an area in front of the women’s locker room.

While Glenda asked one of the lifeguards to bring her some food, Williams leaned on one of the walls outside the women’s locker room for support. The lifeguard went away to get some food and returned with chips and an iced tea. Upon his return, Williams, her sister Glenda, and the lifeguard went into the locker room.

After a few minutes passed, William couldn’t breathe and collapsed onto the floor, unresponsive. Glenda rushed outside to the pool area and asked the lifeguard to call 911, which they did.

The dispatcher alerted the paramedics and asked several lifeguards a few questions regarding the situation. One of the lifeguards assumed that Williams was diabetic and was fainting, to which her sister asked to call 911. The dispatcher asked the lifeguard whether Williams’ breathing was normal, to which the lifeguard responded that she couldn’t really say as she was not around her.

Another lifeguard affirmed that although he does not know exactly what happened, the incident occurred in the locker room. He then called for the lifeguard with Williams to respond to the dispatcher’s question. That lifeguard stated that Willaims was breathing slowly, “grunting,” and had something in her mouth.

The Oakland Fire Department arrived first and saw Williams on the floor, unresponsive and not breathing. One of the fire rescuers saw that no one was giving CPR and decided to immediately perform it on Williams. He continued to perform mechanical CPR, during which she started aspirating.

Williams needed medical attention, and the rescuers moved her into an ambulance to take her to the nearest hospital. On the way, the paramedic staff measured her “absent respirations,” injected her with epinephrine, and also performed an EKG, which indicated that she had no pulse.

The paramedics further injected her with two additional doses of epinephrine as they reached the hospital. Willaims was then moved to the emergency room, where the doctors made efforts to revive her, but sadly, 30 minutes later, they pronounced her dead.

The family filed a lawsuit against the City of Oakland, stating that the lifeguards did not provide emergency care after Willaims collapsed. However, the trial court concluded that the lifeguards do not owe a duty to provide emergency services outside of the public pool.

California Regulations Pertaining to Lifeguards

According to the California Code of Regulations, title 22, section 116028, states that a lifeguard must be available during times of use at a public pool. They must have the necessary lifeguard training or certification to be a lifeguard and also have first aid training, including CPR. However, lifeguards have no other duty but to supervise the safety of people during water-related activities.

The California Code of Regulations, title 22, section 116028, subdivision (a), brings a lot of clarity about lifeguard services. These types of services will only be available in public pools that are artificially constructed and charge a fee for their use.

Other public pools may or may not provide lifeguard services, but if they’re not providing one, the law requires them to have signs all over the place to let the users know.

Under the provisions mentioned in section 116028, the duties of a lifeguard are only to supervise the public pool user’s safety in water-contact activities, and they must supervise while providing swimming lessons, water safety instructions, or coaching.

In the case of Johnson v. City of Oakland, the plaintiffs argued that Williams collapsed shortly after engaging in water-contact activities and that it didn’t make sense for the lifeguards not to have the duty to assist since Williams collapsed in the locker room and not the public pool.

However, the regulation is pretty straightforward and explicit in mentioning the duties of the lifeguard to stay focused on the pool area and offer assistance there whenever required.

The duty of care in such instances may arise if there is evidence of a special relationship between the injured and the paramedic, police, or lifeguard. In the instance of Johnson v. City of Oakland, there was no special relationship established between the lifeguards and Williams.

Schedule a Free Consultation with an Attorney

If you suffered injuries at a pool due to an accident that was not your fault, contact us at + (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation with our California swimming pool accident attorneys. We will help review the facts of your case and offer you legal guidance and valuable insight pertaining to your personal injury case and claim.

Top Notch American Injury Lawyer, Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline

Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.

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