When Are Drowning Accidents in California Considered Premises Liability?

Empty swimming pool

The tragedy of drowning accidents is unfathomable, even if it occurs in shallow water. Although drowning incidents in California have decreased markedly over the last four decades, drowning is still the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in children in the U.S.

Compass Law Group, P.C., with offices throughout the Los Angeles vicinity, handles premises liability cases that result from such awful accidents with dedication and compassion.

In addition to the thousands of lives lost in drowning accidents, a sizable number of individuals suffer severe, often catastrophic, injuries in pools, ponds, or other bodies of water. A human brain deprived of oxygen for even five minutes can be gravely damaged. Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that it is possible to drown in a kiddy pool, even a plastic one in a backyard filled with only two inches of water.

The immense grief of parents and other family members of a drowning victim is impossible to overstate. If you or someone you know has suffered such a grave loss, nothing but time can dull the anguish. Nonetheless, if someone’s negligence is to blame for the accident, seeing justice done and preventing future disasters is reason enough to consult with a strong, skilled premises liability attorney.

The “Attractive Nuisance” Is No Longer Valid in California Drowning Accidents

When someone you love drowns in a swimming pool, it is natural to want to blame someone — often the homeowner or recreation center on whose land the pool or pond is located. According to the laws of California, however, there is no longer liability under the doctrine of “attractive nuisance.”

What this means is that you cannot claim that the property owner — however unintentionally — lured a wandering (trespassing) child simply by having an appealing body of water on his or her land and is therefore responsible for the child’s death.

Parents or designated caretakers are held liable for the reasonable safety of the children they tend. It is a well-established fact that a child can drown while the caretaking adult runs to answer a phone or get a cold drink and that older children, even those who know how to swim, may quickly drown if left without adult supervision.

Who’s responsible for supervising a private pool in which there are invited guests?

The laws governing pool safety have become stricter over the years. According to California’s 1996 Pool Safety Act and its 2018 Amendment, private pools are now required to:

  • Be surrounded by fences at least 60 inches high with self-latching gates
  • Have tight and secure pool covers 
  • Be protected by alarms that sound if an unauthorized person enters the pool area

Furthermore, pool owners are responsible for providing supervision of any children they invite or permit on their property. It is necessary for children to be watched by an adult who is committed to the task whenever they are in or near the water.

Who’s responsible for preventing drowning accidents at a public pool?

Whether the pool in question is open to the general public or accessible only to members and guests, all owners and managers of swimming pools in California must provide:

  • Safety fencing around the perimeter to keep unsupervised children out
  • Adequate supervision by trained personnel*
  • Safety equipment like life preservers and rescue poles
  • Posted warnings of water depth
  • Adequate pool and equipment maintenance, repair, and sanitation
  • Maintenance of healthy levels of chlorine and other pool chemicals

*Under California’s “Respondeat Superior” laws owners can be held “vicariously liable” for the negligence of their employees

How an Experienced Premises Liability Attorney Can Win a Case Involving a Drowning

In order to win a premises liability case, the personal injury lawyer must be able to establish that:

  • The swimming pool and its surroundings presented an unreasonable risk of harm
  • The property owner knew, or should have known, that this risk existed
  • The property owner was negligent, creating or failing to correct the problem
  • The owner’s negligence was the direct cause of the drowning

Proving these facts requires that the attorney gather police records, medical data, and records pertaining to inspections and repairs of the pool in question. In addition, a keen premises liability lawyer will interview witnesses and pertinent experts — e.g. medical specialists, pool service manufacturers or technicians, plumbers or electricians — who may be able to bolster the plaintiffs’ case.

What happens when the fault lies elsewhere?

Each drowning incident is unique and sometimes the company that installed a drain that trapped a child is responsible for improper installation or the manufacturer of a pool ladder that broke during use is at least partially liable for the drowning. In such cases, more than one party may be sued for the wrongful death.

It should be noted that there are also cases in which the court determines that the drowning victim was partially responsible for her/his own death. This might be the case if an adult victim dove into water clearly marked as too shallow for diving or was intoxicated at the time of the drowning.

In such situations, the principle of comparative negligence comes into play. California is a pure comparative negligence state, meaning plaintiffs can collect damages even if the victim bore a large portion of responsibility for the accident. The awarded settlement, however, will be decreased by the percentage of fault the court assigns to the victim.

Contact Our Expert Los Angeles Premises Liability Attorneys Today!

Premises liability is a principle under which a property owner (person or entity) is held liable for damages if a person suffers injury on that property due to the owner’s negligence. The law presumes that property owners have a “duty of care” to others who are legally on their property and so must maintain a safe environment.

Knowledgeable premises liability attorneys with sharp negotiation and litigation skills are able to win substantial damages for families who have lost a loved one to drowning on someone else’s property. No amount of money can bring back the victim, but such money can provide funds to compensate for medical costs, lost income, and other financial losses. Awarded damages may also enable victims’ families to create foundations that disseminate information, organize swim classes, or take other measures to prevent drownings, bring grieving families a measure of purpose and peace.


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