Good Fences And Not So Good Neighbors: Property Law 101
In A Lawsuit, When Is A Pool Owner Legally Liable For Personal Injuries?
by Hunter Moore
Swimming pools are widely enjoyed but can also pose dangers to the people who use them. The owner of a swimming pool can be held responsible if someone is injured while using that pool, but exactly when that pool owner is liable can be confusing. Here are the basics of pool owner liability.
What Is "Premises Liability"?
"Premises liability" is a legal concept that holds property owners responsible for the safety of people visiting that property. The property owner has a legal duty to take reasonable efforts to keep the property free of dangerous conditions. If an invited guest is injured on the property because the property owner did not exercise a reasonable level of care to minimize risks, then the property owner can be liable for that guest's injuries.
Three Types of Visitors
Most states recognize three different classes of visitors: invitees, licensees, and trespassers.
Invitee: When the owner of a pool provides access to the pool for commercial purposes, then the visitors are classified as "invitees." Private resorts, gyms, and public pools are three businesses that commercially benefit from visitors' use of the pool, whether or not the visitors pay actual fees for the use of the pool.
Licensee: If the owner of a pool invites people over for non-commercial reasons, like a private pool party or social gathering, then those visitors are classified as "licensees."
Trespasser: If visitors use a pool without the owner's invitation, then those visitors are "trespassers." These visitors are uninvited guests.
Different Levels of Care
The owner of a pool has a legal duty to keep the pool environment safe for visitors, but the level of care that the owner must take varies according to how the visitors are classified.
Invitee: A pool owner owes the highest duty of care to visitors classified as invitees. The pool owner must ensure that no dangerous conditions exist, warn invitees of known risks, and take reasonable steps to lessen any of these risks. For example, a municipal regulation might require all public pools to have a lifeguard on duty during business hours.
Licensee: A pool owner owes a lesser duty of care to visitors classified as licensees. The same responsibilities that this kind of pool owner must exercise are the same as those exercised by a commercial pool owner, but the level of expected safety is lower because it is used for private purposes. Labeling the depth of the pool is one method that can alert invited parents of pool areas that are suitable for young children.
Trespasser: In most cases, a pool owner owes no duty of care to a trespasser. This is because, if a pool owner does not reasonably expect a visitor to use the pool, then the pool owner does not need to warn anyone about potential dangers or risks posed by the use of the pool. There are two main exceptions, however:
Children: To a child, a pool is an "attractive nuisance." An attractive nuisance, such as a pool, is a piece of property that entices and interests a child, but also poses a danger to that child because the child cannot comprehend the risks associated with the use of that property. A pool owner should reasonably expect that a pool will attract children even if uninvited; thus, a pool owner is legally responsible to reasonably protect child trespassers. To prevent child trespassers, a pool owner can erect a fence with a locked gate or cover the pool when not in use.
Intentional Harm: Even though a pool owner is not liable if a trespasser is injured when using the pool uninvited, the pool owner cannot intentionally take steps to harm these uninvited visitors. For example, a pool owner cannot set traps around the pool, or fill the pool with poisonous substances in an effort to harm unwanted pool crashers.
Contact a local personal injury attorney, like at Gibbs and Parnell, if you have further questions.
If you've recently moved into a new house and your neighbors are claiming you've infringed on their property line with your new fence, you may not know what to do. Sure, the idea of contacting a lawyer can be intimidating, but if your neighbors are insistent that you're on their property and you can't prove otherwise, an attorney may be the best choice. I created this site to help people just like you understand the laws surrounding property boundaries, real estate claims, and similar issues. I hope that the information here will give you some clarity as to whether or not you need to consult an attorney to protect your interests.