Pool Safety Concerns: North Carolina Legal Requirements for Pool Owners
School’s out for summer and many people in North Carolina will be spending time around the pool in the coming months. Unfortunately, the risk of injury increases during the summer, and swimming pools especially present risk of serious injury or death.
Common injuries that happen around pools, include, but are not limited to:
- Slip and fall accidents,
- Diving accidents, and
- Drownings and near-drownings
These incidents can lead to minor scrapes and bruises, but they can also result in serious or fatal injuries. Slip and fall accidents can cause deep cuts and broken bones, and diving accidents can cause spinal injuries and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). 1
There are also several types of pool injuries related to equipment issues, such as:
- Drain entrapment, where people’s limbs or hair get caught in pool drains,
- Infection due to poor chemical maintenance and treatment,
- Failed pool lights, leading to increased dive injuries, and
- Lack of a barrier that prevents adults and children from walking into the pool. 2
Injuries such as these can be caused by poor maintenance by the landowner, but they can also be caused by product failures where a manufacturing or design defect has led to equipment failure. 3
Whether there is a claim for your injury is assessed on a case-by-case basis. In North Carolina, public swimming pools must be in compliance with the state’s safety standards and are required to have annual inspections by environmental health specialists. 4 For example, public swimming pools must be completely enclosed by a fence or barrier at least four (4) feet high, and gates must have both a locking and a self-latching device. 5 When a swimming pool does not have a lifeguard on duty, a legible sign must be posted stating “WARNING-NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY.” 6 Pools must have life-saving equipment readily available and must have either lifeguards or large warning signs around the pool. 7
Children are at risk for injury or death because of immaturity or inability to swim well and need supervision while swimming. An owner of a pool must act reasonably in supervising invited children according to standards of care that a reasonable and ordinary person would do under similar circumstances. 8 North Carolina’s safety standards mandate that when a lifeguard is not on duty, pools must have signs legible from all entrances that state “CHILDREN SHOULD NOT USE THE SWIMMING POOL WITHOUT ADULT SUPERVISION.” 9
Also, pool owners should be aware that a child who trespasses to use your pool without your permission may be able to file a claim for injury depending on the situation. If a young child was injured, North Carolina courts apply what is called the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine.10 In short, if a pool owner knows that children are likely to trespass, and that pool owner knows or should know of a dangerous condition in the pool or pool area, then the landowner owes a heightened duty of care and may be liable for the child’s injuries. 11 Examples of negligent conduct may include failure to lock a gate when on notice of trespassing children, leaving dangerous equipment exposed that may pose a safety hazard, or failing to repair defective tiles or other tripping hazards.
If an adult was injured, North Carolina courts apply what is called premises liability, where the owner of the pool owes a duty of care to people in or around their pool and property. The extent of that duty depends on the relationship between the landowner and the person injured.
People who do not have permission to use the pool and enter the premises are trespassers. The standard of care owed to trespassers is less than that owed to invited guests; however, a pool owner is liable for an injury to a trespasser when there is “actual knowledge of the danger combined with a design, purpose, or intent to do wrong and inflict injury” or a wanton act that is “performed intentionally with a reckless indifference to the injuries likely to result” and is therefore considered gross negligence.12
As opposed to trespassers, people who have permission to be on the land are lawful visitors, and landowners owe them a duty of reasonable care and the threshold of proving liability is lower for invited guests as opposed to trespassers.13 Generally, a pool owner is charged with a duty to maintain its pool in a safe condition for use by guests and this includes a duty to correct or warn of known or discoverable defects capable of causing injury.
Steps to take after a pool injury
If you or a loved one received an injury in or around a pool it can be difficult to figure out what to do and what questions to ask. Here are some steps to help guide you.
Step 1: Seek Medical Attention
The first step you should always take after an accident is to make sure that everyone is safe and gets the medical attention they need. If you or a loved one has been injured in or around a pool, assess the severity of the injuries and call 911 if emergency medical assistance is necessary.
Step 2: Take Photos and Collect Evidence
In every personal injury lawsuit collecting evidence 14 is crucial to success. Start by taking photos of the injuries, the conditions in or around the pool, and taking down the names and numbers of potential witnesses.
While taking photos can help your case, posting on social media about the injury may not be. Proceed with caution 15 when posting anything about the accident or your injuries on social media. Opposing counsel in a future personal injury case will review your social media for discrepancies in your version of the facts and the severity of your injuries.
Step 3: Contact an experienced Attorney
While reading blogs and online articles can help you figure out the next steps to take, only an attorney can give personalized legal advice that applies to your specific situation. A licensed, experienced attorney can assess your specific situation to determine what type of legal claim you can make and who should be held responsible for your injuries. If you have been injured at a pool, Grimes Yeoman has decades of experience with Personal Injury claims and is here to help you.