Find out who can be held responsible and how to avoid future accidents
The state of Texas is known for its wide-open skies, hot temperatures, and cool bodies of water. There are so many miles of Gulf coastline, lakes, waterparks, rivers, and swimming pools, that Texans have every opportunity to participate in water-based activities.
But this doesn't come without risks. Texas currently leads the nation in swimming pool drowning deaths.
Swimming pool accident statistics
Drowning is the 2nd leading cause of death among children under the age of 14 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that 3 children lose their lives every day to drowning.
The statistics in the state of Texas are just as grim. According to the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services, 91 children fatally drowned in Texas in 2018.
How swimming pool accidents happen
Many swimming pool accidents happen because of reckless or negligent behavior. The good news is that swimming pool accidents can often be prevented.
Take a look at the following factors that can increase drowning risks to determine if you need to change your behavior:
- Lack of swimming ability
- New parents
- New owners of a pool
- Multiple children around the pool
- Underestimating the mobility of a toddler
- Lack of barriers
- Lack of close supervision
- Failure to wear a life jacket
- Alcohol use
- Seizure disorders
Premises liability laws in Texas
Most swimming pool accident cases are premises liability cases.
What does this mean?
“Premises liability” refers to a set of rules that require property owners to take certain measures to ensure their property is safe for visitors. The specific measures that they must take depends on how the visitors are classified.
Visitors can be classified as:
- Licensees: This is a person to whom the owner of the property has given consent to enter the property. What’s more, the person is on the property for their own benefit (social guest, etc.). The owner has a duty to warn the licensee of any dangers on the property known to the owner but not known to the licensee (loose deck boards around the pool, etc.). Alternatively, the property owner can make repair or remove the dangerous condition.
- Invitees: A person who enters the land with the owner’s knowledge and for the mutual benefit of both parties is an invitee (business patrons, etc.). An invitee is offered the utmost duty of care. The owner must warn or make safe any dangerous conditions that the owner knows of or could have discovered with a reasonable inspection.
- Trespassers: A trespasser enters another’s property without lawful authority or permission. The only duty owed to a trespasser is the duty not to cause injury willfully, wantonly, or through gross negligence.
What’s more, Texas has adopted the attractive nuisance doctrine, which states that owners are liable for physical harm to children (regardless of whether they’re trespassing) if there is a hazardous object on their land (such as a swimming pool) and proper steps aren’t taken to keep the children away from the object (for example, putting up a fence).
So, what does all this mean?
If a Texas landowner leaves their pool inadequately protected or unsupervised, or if a landowner fails to maintain the basic safety standards for pools, they will likely be liable for any drowning injuries that occur—even if they’re not home when the drowning occurs.
Specific requirements for Texas pool owners
In the state of Texas, private and public swimming pool owners have a duty to comply with state-set standards for operating and maintaining their pools.
For example, Texas law requires residential pool owners to have the following:
- A fence enclosing the pool area that’s at least 48 inches high with openings that are less than 4 inches wide
- Self-closing and self-latching gates
- A throwing rope at least ¼ inch in diameter
- A reaching pole that doesn’t conduct electricity
- A cover for the pool
What’s more, pool owners are responsible for supervising children that are swimming in their pools or on their property.
Types of swimming accident injuries
Near-drowning accidents can result in terrible tragedies. The biggest non-fatal health concern is permanent damage to the brain, though faulty pool drains can also result in injuries to the bowels or other systems, which can result in lifelong injuries.
Other nonfatal drowning injuries include:
- Aspiration pneumonia
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome
Texas statute of limitations
If someone has been injured while swimming on another person's property, they generally have 2 years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. The person has the same amount of time to bring a wrongful death case.
How to avoid a swimming pool accident
You can’t always control whether a pool owner maintains their pool in a safe condition. You can, however, take steps to ensure a safer swimming experience. Here are some tips:
- Make sure younger swimmers wear flotation devices (even if they complain about it).
- Don't read a book; keep a watchful eye on swimmers.
- Put your cell phone away while on lifeguard duty.
- Never swim by yourself; bring a friend with you.
- Don't swim after drinking, smoking, or using prescription medication.
- Use pool noodles, tubes, and other flotation devices. (Encourage this use by buying fun and entertaining pool floats.)
- Learn CPR and lifesaving swimming techniques
Other frequently asked swimming pool accident questions
Before we wrap things up, let’s take a quick look at some commonly asked swimming pool accident questions.
What should I do in the event of a swimming pool accident?
The seconds, minutes, and hours following a swimming pool accident are critical. What you do (and don't do) can make a big difference in the compensation you’re able to receive in your future premises liability case.
Here are the steps to take in the event you’re involved in a swimming pool accident:
- Step 1: Ensure the safety of others. Have everyone exit the pool and call 911. Wait for emergency services to arrive.
- Step 2: Take pictures of the area. The more photographs, the better. If you’re too injured to take pictures, ask a friend, family member, or witness to take some for you.
- Step 3: Gather witness information. Write down the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the other people who were there when the accident or drowning occurred. Their version of events could be helpful should you choose to file a claim.
- Step 4: Seek medical help. Ensure that you visit a doctor and obey their treatment suggestions. You don't want the defense claiming that you weren’t really hurt or that you didn’t try to get better.
- Step 5: Protect the evidence. Make sure any defective pool equipment or other evidence is kept safe and away from others. Talk to your attorney about filing a preliminary injunction to prevent the property owner from destroying the evidence.
- Step 6: Document everything. In addition to saving all bills, letters of correspondence, and reports concerning your accident, write down what you remember as soon as possible while the memory is still fresh to ensure important details aren't lost.
- Step 7: Consult an attorney. Last but not least, talk to a qualified swimming pool accident lawyer about your case. This attorney will help protect your rights and make sure you obtain the maximum possible recovery.
Who’s liable for swimming pool accidents?
Swimming pool accidents can happen for a number of different reasons. Depending on the circumstances, the parties that might be liable in Texas premises include:
- Homeowners of a residential swimming pool
- Government entities that own community, school, or public pools
- Corporate owners of a commercial or private pool located in gyms, apartment complexes, hotels, campgrounds, etc.
Can I sue the government for swimming pool injuries occurring at a public pool?
While it’s possible to sue a local government or government agency for an injury that occurred at a public, community or school pool, these cases are rare and difficult due to tort immunity that protects the government from civil lawsuits.
Proving negligence in these types of cases is particularly complicated and the time period during which a claim can be filed against a government entity is shorter. You should discuss your case with an attorney as soon as possible to explore your legal options in this scenario.
What kind of evidence is needed to prove liability in a swimming pool accident?
As with all personal injury cases, evidence to prove liability in a swimming pool accident case can come in many shapes and forms.
Common types of evidence used to establish fault and calculate damages include:
- Photographs and videos of the accident scene
- Police reports
- Eyewitness statements
- Employer records and reports
- Medical bills
- Health records
- Pay stubs
- Tax returns
- Insurance policies and correspondence with insurers
Swimming pool accident resources
Here are some of the best organizations dedicated to teaching better swimming techniques and offering educational resources:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Swimming is a great way to get in shape, though it doesn't come without its risks. This site provides information for everyone, from laypeople to medical professionals.
- Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition: This organization was formed because Texas is #1 for pool drowning deaths. Most importantly, they note that 100% of drownings are preventable.
- Help and Hope: This website keeps track of tragic statistics, such as how many children have passed away by drowning and where those accidents occurred. It also offers information for parents and caregivers as to how they can protect their children around water. It's run by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
- National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF): The NSPF's drowning prevention campaign aims to provide educational information so that fewer people die from unintentional accidents.
- Texas Swim Academy: Their approach is RESPECT: Recognize the signs of non-swimmers or distressed swimmers; Educate yourself on what factors lead to drowning; Supervise; Physical barriers should be used, along with fencing, safety covers, alarms and life jackets; Expect realistic limits from the aquatic environment and know your body's limits; Communicate, warn and inform; Train, learn to swim and how to respond in an emergency.
- YMCA Houston: This program is designed to begin at 6 months old, instilling the idea that swimming is a survival skill and not just for fun.
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!