When you think of Ohio drowning deaths, you probably think first of the Great Lakes. Dozens of people have drowned off the shores of Ohio in Lake Michigan and Lake Erie already this year, and the typical year wraps up with more than 100 drowning deaths. To most, the local community pool looks much less dangerous: limited depth, no waves, a contained area, and typically monitored by lifeguards. But, public pools can be more dangerous than you might expect.
That may be especially true in Ohio.
The USA Swimming Foundation looked at pool and spa drownings among children under 15 across a 10-year period. The four states with the most child drowning deaths in pools and spas were year-round warm-weather states: Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona. Ohio rounded out the top five.
Each year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports on pool and spa submersion injuries and deaths among children under the age of 15. Nationwide, about 6,800 kids 14 and under were treated in hospital emergency departments for nonfatal pool and spa drowning injuries in 2021. An average of 389 kids suffer fatal drowning injuries each year. The vast majority of those injured and killed were children under five.
While the youngest children were more likely to suffer submersion injuries in residential pools, those aged 5-14 were more often in public pools.
Drowning is the most immediately obvious risk associated with a visit to the local pool, but it’s far from the only one. Children tend to be more vulnerable to drowning and certain other pool-related injuries due to their smaller size, lack of judgment about water safety, curiosity about pool drains, and other dangerous features and other factors. But, adults are also at risk from most of the types of injuries described here.
Slip and fall accidents are not uncommon around public pools and in the surrounding areas, such as concession areas and locker rooms. Where there’s a pool, there’s water, and that means slick surfaces. The risk is compounded when that water is tracked into areas where it’s not necessarily so apparent, such as adjacent stairways. And, people at play–even adults–aren’t always on the lookout for hazards.
Swimmers and those using hot tubs can get hair, fingers, or other body parts entangled in water intakes or filter pumps. A small child may even get an arm or leg stuck. While this type of entanglement can cause injuries such as cuts, bruises, muscle tears and other damage, one significant risk is that the person will be trapped under the water and drown.
Similarly, suction associated with drains and pumps can cause serious injury and occasionally even be fatal. Smaller children are especially at risk of serious suction injuries, including disembowelment.
Water slides, diving boards, and other equipment may cause injury if upper-level surfaces are slippery, a child is too light for the slide, the sides aren’t adequately guarded, or there is some other flaw in design or construction.
Jumping or diving into shallow water can cause serious injury if the depth of the water isn’t sufficient to slow the diver’s momentum and they strike the bottom of the pool.
Who is liable for injuries sustained at a public pool depends on a variety of factors. Some of the most common include:
Whether negligence on the part of the facility or another party caused or significantly contributed to the injury. Some examples include:
If the stairway to the pool locker room is not textured to prevent slipping and the facility manager doesn’t keep it mopped, post warning signs, or otherwise take reasonable steps to reduce the risk, they may be responsible for slip and fall injuries,
If another pool visitor acts negligently or intentionally and causes injury, such as by cannonballing into an area of the pool with small children in it or pushing another person into the pool, they may be personally liable for any resulting injury,
If a defective piece of equipment, such as a float or slide, causes or contributes to an injury, the manufacturer of that equipment may be wholly or partly responsible,
If poorly maintained equipment caused or contributed to the injury, or if the facility failed to post appropriate rules and warnings regarding the safe use of equipment, the facility may be liable
Under Ohio law, a public pool is not required to provide lifeguards. Therefore, the fact that no lifeguard was on duty will generally not give rise to a personal injury or wrongful death claim. However, public pools that do not employ lifeguards are required to post signs clearly indicating that no lifeguard is on duty. Additional signage is required to advise parents to supervise children and to advise against swimming alone.
The facility is also required to make a working telephone or emergency call box available and to clearly post warning signs when the pool is closed.
Note that although lifeguards are not required, a pool operator who provides lifeguards must exercise reasonable care. That means a pool may be liable for injuries sustained due to lifeguard negligence, or because lifeguards were negligently hired, trained, or supervised.
We’re using “public pool” here to describe any pool that’s open to the public, whether it’s run by a city, a non-profit, a recreational center, or another entity. But, you may know that governmental entities aren’t treated exactly like private businesses under Ohio law. That’s because Ohio law grants cities, counties, and other governmental units immunity from civil liability for any negligence claims.
However, there are several exceptions to sovereign immunity in Ohio. For example, one key exception provides that:
“…political subdivisions are liable for injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the negligence of their employees and that occurs within or on the grounds of, and is due to physical defects within or on the grounds of, buildings that are used in connection with the performance of a governmental function…“Ohio Exceptions to sovereign immunity
In 2012, the Ohio Supreme Court held that this exception applied to an indoor public pool operated by the City of Cuyahoga Falls.
If you’ve been injured at a pool operated by a city, county, or other governmental entity, the best source of information about whether sovereign immunity applies and whether there is an applicable exception is an experienced local personal injury attorney.
Whether your injury involved submersion, a slip and fall, an injury on a slide or diving board, or you sustained other injuries at a public pool, your next step should be to talk with an experienced Ohio injury attorney. The attorneys at Dyer, Garofalo, Mann & Schulz L.P.A. have been fighting for Ohio injury victims for more than three decades. You can schedule your free consultation right now by calling 937-222-2222 or filling out the contact form on this site.
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