According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 10 people die from unintentional drownings every day. Year-round warm weather and the presence of more than 300,000 residential swimming pools puts Arizona at particularly high risk for swimming pool accidents.
This article examines the prevalence of drowning accidents in Arizona, the laws governing swimming pools, the damages that may be recovered in the event of a drowning, and tips to prevent swimming pool accidents.
According to a report compiled by the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona, the drowning death rate of Arizona’s preschoolers ranked 1st in the nation throughout the 1980’s. Over the least 6 years, Arizona ranks 4th among all states for drowning deaths among children ages 1-4, and such deaths occur at a rate nearly 2 times the national average.
Not all drownings are fatal, but more than 50% of drowning victims are treated in emergency departments. In the most recent year for which the data is available, 419 people were admitted to hospitals in Arizona for an incident of drowning or nonfatal drowning.
Nonfatal drowning injuries include:
It’s estimated that hospitals in Arizona charged over $10.3 million for care related to drownings in 2016.
Nearly 80% of people who die from drownings are male. Children ages 1-4 are the most likely to drown. In addition, the following factors influence drowning risks:
The term “premises liability” refers to a set of rules that require property owners to take certain measures that ensure their property is safe for visitors. The measures they must take (or, to put it another way, the standard of care that they’re held to) depends on the status of the visitor.
Visitors to property, including swimming pools, are divided into 3 categories:
The duties owed by the landowner to these different visitors can be described as follows:
Just like with any other negligence claim, once the duty owed is determined, the injured person must prove that:
So what does this all mean?
If a landowner leaves their pool inadequately protected or unsupervised, they will likely be liable for any drowning injuries that occur — regardless of whether the injured person was an invitee, licensee, or trespasser.
Of course, other laws may apply and other parties may be held liable depending on the nature of the accident. For example, if an older swimmer holds a younger swimmer underwater, the older swimmer may be guilty of battery. If a pool pump malfunctions and injures a swimmer, the injured swimmer may be able to file a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the defective pool pump.
In an effort to reduce the high number of injuries and deaths by drowning in Arizona, the legislature passed Arizona Revised Statute 36-1681, which requires pool owners to take certain safety measures when 1 or more children under the age of 6 live in their home.
For example, all pools with more than 18 inches of water must be enclosed by an enclosure that:
If there’s a door or gate within the 5-foot fence, it must:
Public and semi-public pools must meet certain requirements set forth in Title 9, Chapter 8, Article 8 of the Arizona Administrative Code and Title 18, Chapter 5, Article 2 of the Arizona Administrative Code.
These codes set forth a number of specific requirements dealing with (among other items):
In addition, some counties have their own regulations that are stricter than the regulations set by the state of Arizona. Check your local and county websites to see the code regarding swimming pool safety.
Regardless of whether a pool visitor is an invitee, licensee, or trespasser, certain risks such as slippery surfaces around the pool and the danger posed by diving from inappropriate places are considered so “open and obvious” that the owner won’t be held liable.
Similarly, when a swimmer is injured, the owner will look to establish that the swimmer caused the accident or was at least partially at fault for the accident.
Arizona operates under the law of pure comparative fault. This means that the injured person’s damages will be reduced in accordance with their degree of fault.
In Arizona, a person injured by a pool accident can recover the following damages:
In most cases, the injured person will recover economic damages and noneconomic damages. Punitive damages are rarely awarded, but may be available in extreme cases when the defendant was either grossly negligent or intentionally caused the accident.
In the event that a person drowns, the person’s family (e.g., spouse, child, parent/guardian) can file a wrongful death lawsuit. The family member will have to prove liability the same way the deceased would have had to prove liability had they survived. If the family member is successful, they can recover a “fair and just amount” based on the following factors:
Keep in mind that almost all homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for swimming pool accidents, which increases your chances of recovery in the event that the landowner doesn’t have any money.
For most negligence, intentional tort, and wrongful death claims, the statute of limitations in Arizona is 2 years. However, if the claim is brought against a public entity or public employee (which might be the case if a public pool is owned and operated by the county), the statute of limitations is only 1 year and a notice of claim must be filed within 180 days of the injury.
The Arizona Department of Health Services has come up with a number of pool safety recommendations. These include:
We hope these tips help you to own a pool or swim without worry. In the meantime, if you need to speak with an attorney, try the Enjuris Arizona law firm directory.