Tennessee Swimming Pool Injuries & Premises Liability Laws

Tennessee swimming pool accident liability

Who’s liable when someone is injured or drowns in a swimming pool accident?

Public and residential pool owners in Tennessee can be held liable when a swimmer is injured in or around their pool. In this article, we’ll look at the laws and other factors that may impact liability.
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The hottest temperature ever recorded in Tennessee was 113 degrees Fahrenheit. What’s more, Tennessee is the 13th hottest state when it comes to average summer temperatures.

The bottom line:

Private and residential swimming pools, as well as lakes and rivers, are immensely popular in the Volunteer State.


Unfortunately, swimming comes with risks. In this article, we’ll take a look at swimming pool injuries, the laws intended to keep swimmers safe, and when a swimming pool owner can be held liable.

Let’s dive in.

Are swimming pool injuries common?

Though swimming pool injuries impact all age groups, children under the age of 15 are by far the most impacted in the United States.

Swimming pool injuries treated in emergency departments in the U.S.
Year Younger than 5 years of age 5-14 years of age
2017 5,300 7,300
2018 4,900 6,400
2019 5,100 6,300
Source: The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission


Swimming pool drowning deaths in the U.S.
Year Younger than 5 years of age 5-14 years of age
2015 263 88
2016 290 100
2017 303 91
Source: The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission


Facing factsIn Tennessee, children drown at a rate slightly higher than the national average. The most drowning deaths are among boys under the age of 4.

Swimming pool injuries can be minor or severe. Some examples include:

What are the most common causes of swimming pool injuries?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that most swimming pool injuries are a result of inadequate supervision or lack of swimming ability. Nevertheless, there are a number of factors that may contribute to swimming pool injury:

  • Lack of barriers
  • Failure to wear life jackets
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Defective or poorly maintained equipment (diving boards, pool heaters, etc.)
  • Medical conditions (such as seizure disorders)
  • Unmarked depths
  • Slippery pool decks
  • Poorly maintained drains and filters
Real Life Example: Raymond Belcher filed a lawsuit in Knox County Circuit Court after his 3-year-old son became the 3rd child to drown at a Quality Inn and Suites West Waterpark in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The hotel advertised itself as a water park, but had no lifeguards on duty (in violation of state law) and lacked a working emergency telephone when Raymond’s son drowned.

When are residential swimming pool owners liable in Tennessee?

The vast majority of swimming pool accidents happen at home.

Facing factsAccording to Stanford Children’s Health, drownings are the leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 1-4 and ages 10-14. Most childhood drownings occur in the child’s home pool, and roughly ⅓ of total drownings occur in pools at the homes of friends, neighbors, or relatives.

In Tennessee, property owners have a duty to exercise “reasonable care” to protect people on their property from “unreasonable risks of harm.” If a property owner fails to exercise reasonable care, the property owner will be liable for any harm that results.

What does a swimming pool owner have to do to exercise reasonable care?

Premises liability laws require swimming pool owners in Tennessee to either remove or warn against any dangerous conditions they actually know about or should know about.

Common dangerous conditions with respect to swimming pools include:

  • An open pool (i.e. a pool that lacks barriers)
  • Unsupervised swimmers
  • Slippery surfaces around the pool
  • Unmarked depths
  • Defective equipment
Real Life Example: At an in-home daycare in Knoxville, Tennessee, 2 toddlers fell into a swimming pool and drowned. The parents of the toddlers filed a lawsuit against the owner of the daycare. The lawsuit alleges that the owner was not properly supervising the children when the children fell into the swimming pool and that the pool lacked adequate barriers.

Notably, the owner of the daycare had previously been ordered to cease operating the daycare due to various complaints about poor supervision made to the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

The lawsuit is pending.

Additionally, there are a number of specific state and local regulations pertaining to private pool owners. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Swimming pool barriers. All residential swimming pools in Tennessee must comply with the BOCA Pool Barrier Code. Among other things, the code requires a barrier (fence or wall) meeting certain specifications around the pool to prevent drownings and other injuries.
  • Swimming pool gates. Barriers around residential swimming pools must have access gates at least 48 inches tall and equipped with locking devices.
  • Swimming pool alarms. All residential swimming pools built in Tennessee on or after January 1, 2011, must have an alarm. The alarm has to be secured to the pool and must be able to detect when an object or person heavier than 15 pounds enters the water.

If a swimming pool owner violates one of the state or local regulations, they’ll likely be liable for any injuries that result.

What about injuries that occur in public pools?

Just like owners of residential pools, public pool owners (usually the town, city, or state) can be held liable if a swimmer is injured because the owner failed to exercise reasonable care.

What’s more, public pool owners must adhere to the state regulations found in Chapter 1200-23-5 of the Rules of The Tennessee Department of Health Bureau of Health Services Administration.

For example, 1200-23-5.02 requires that all public pools have at least 1 certified lifeguard (more lifeguards may be necessary depending on the size of the swimming pool). 

What defenses do pool owners have?

There are 2 defenses that pool owners are likely to raise in a lawsuit stemming from a swimming pool accident:

  1. Open and obvious. Pool owners may argue that they’re not liable because the dangerous condition was “open and obvious.” In other words, the plaintiff should have seen the dangerous condition and avoided it.

    A pool owner won’t be relieved of their duty to exercise reasonable care simply because a dangerous condition is open and obvious, but the openness and obviousness of a dangerous condition is a factor considered by the court in determining whether the pool owner is liable.

  2. Modified comparative fault. Tennessee follows the modified comparative fault rule, which means that the plaintiff’s damages will be reduced by their percentage of fault. What’s more, if the plaintiff is 50% or more at fault, the plaintiff won’t be able to recover any damages.
Real Life Example: Debbie Vancleave was a guest at the home of Mathew Markowski in Madison County, Tennessee. While Debbie was walking behind Mathew on the deck area around the swimming pool, she fell into an opening that was 18 inches wide and 3 feet long. The opening normally contained a skimmer used for cleaning the pool, but it had been removed for the fall and winter months.

Debbie filed suit alleging negligence and Mathew filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the fact that the opening in the deck was an “open and obvious condition.” The trial court agreed with Mathew, finding that “the plaintiff was injured on an opening in the deck which was clearly visible and not concealed and that anyone walking on the premises should have been able to observe.”

What damages can a person injured in a pool accident recover?

Tennessee allows plaintiffs to recover both economic and non-economic damages:

  • Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by your injury, including medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage.

In rare cases, when the defendant acted maliciously, fraudulently, or recklessly, plaintiffs may be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish defendants and deter similar actions in the future.

Enjuris tip: Learn more about the value of a personal injury claim in Tennessee.

In most cases, Tennessee law caps the amount of non-economic damages you can receive at $750,000 and the amount of punitive damages you can receive at $500,000. However, in cases where the injury is catastrophic, the non-economic damage cap is increased to $1 million.

How long do I have to file a lawsuit based on a pool injury?

In most cases, a plaintiff has 1 year from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit.

But there is an important exception:

If a child under the age of 18 is injured, the statute of limitations doesn’t start running until the child turns 18.

Enjuris tip: Learn more about the statute of limitations in Tennessee.

Think you're ready to discuss your pool injury with a lawyer? You can find one near you using our free online directory.

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Pool Safely is a national public education campaign from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Learn more about how Enjuris and Pool Safely help make water play and summer fun safer for families!


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