A drowning accident is a horrible tragedy for any family to have to go through, and though such incidents rarely involve malice, that doesn’t absolve the responsible party. Water can kill in just a couple of minutes, and it often does so silently. Its danger is multiplied because it draws people to it, especially those most vulnerable. Any property that maintains a pool or other swimming area must make extensive efforts in keeping it as safe as possible and barring young children from entering unsupervised. Other laws may govern the case as well, especially if someone other than the property owner shares liability.
In general these cases are governed by premises liability, a term which refers to a collection of laws that determine who is at fault when the feature or condition of a property causes injury. This means that a property owner will be the one who is held responsible should someone suffer fatal injury from a pool or other dangerous water feature. However, just how liable the property owner is depends on who is harmed by the water.
Most states recognize several categories of “entrants,” which is the term used to refer to anyone who makes use of the property. While states may vary a little on how they interpret what kind of entrants exist, there is normally a distinction between invitees, licensees, and trespassers.
Invitees are patrons of a public pool or swimming area, whether they have paid or have accessed the property for free. Premises liability is most strict regarding invitees, and property owners must take all proper precautions to ensure the area is reasonably safe. In most cases, this does not refer to obvious dangers, like slippery surfaces around the water area and inappropriate diving. Property owners may be liable to invitees if there is a difficult to see obstruction in the water, if safety equipment is poorly maintained or missing, or if it is not clear how deep the water is. Malfunctioning lights and poor water quality may also make it difficult for people to see into the water and may render a property owner liable.
Licensees are people who have been permitted to use a private pool, such as a backyard pool during a party. Premises law is less strict regarding licensees, but property owners must still warn guests about dangers that may not be obvious. For example, is there is a loose rock near the water’s edge that causes a child to fall in, the property owner may sustain liability if it leads to injury.
In most cases, a drowning accident involving a trespasser does not result in liability on the property owner’s part. However, the major exception regards child trespassers. Property owners must take appropriate measures to keep children out, such as erecting a fence that is sturdy enough to block unintended access.
If an incident involves negligence or malice on an individual’s part, such as a person jumping on top of someone else in the water, then that individual may be personally liable for any injury. No matter the cause, though, such cases can be complex to manage and are best handled by a personal injury attorney.