The Responsibilities and Potential Liability of Property Owners
It’s been a hot summer and it’s not over yet. In Texas, there’s little that can take the edge off a sweltering day than a dip in the pool. But having a pool comes with responsibility…it’s an inherently dangerous luxury, with thousands of people suffering serious injury or even death in swimming pools every year. Texas leads the nation in the number of accidental deaths in swimming pools every year. What are the legal duties that are imposed on pool owners in Texas and what is the potential liability for a pool-related injury?
General Duties of Pool Owners
The general duties of pool owners are similar to those of property owners and managers, based on what are known as “premises liability” principles. Under the legal concept of premises liability, the owner or person exercising physical control over real property (property managers and tenants can be liable) has a duty to reasonably monitor and maintain the premises in a way that minimizes the risk of injury to persons legally on the property.
The duty varies based on the legal status of the visitor. There is typically no duty to a trespasser, someone who is on the property illegally or without permission. A licensee has the permission of the owner, but is on the premises for his or her own benefit. This would include visitors to a public pool or persons visiting a friend’s pool. An invitee, however, is on the property to benefit the owner. If there’s a fee to use the pool, the person using it would be considered an invitee. There’s generally a higher duty to an invitee than to a licensee. With respect to a licensee, there’s a duty to take reasonable care of the premises. With an invitee, there’s the additional requirement that the property be monitored and inspected on a reasonable schedule.
There’s another concept, applicable in Texas, which can impose liability on swimming pool owners for injuries or deaths suffered by children around swimming pools. Under the premises liability laws in Texas, a swimming pool can be considered an “attractive nuisance,” something that can unreasonably draw the attention of small children, who don’t have the capacity to understand the inherent dangers. Accordingly, pool owners must take additional precautions to keep small children from obtaining unsupervised access to the pool.
The Requirements of Pool Owners in Texas
Under Texas law, all public pools must provide some type of signage, whether or not there’s a lifeguard on duty. If there’s a lifeguard, there must be signs regarding where diving is prohibited and where the pool’s chlorine room is located. If no lifeguard is on duty, the pool must also post the following additional signs:
- A warning that there is no lifeguard
- An admonition that children should not use the pool without adult supervision
- Directions to an emergency telephone
- A sign that tells visitors to call 911 in the event of an emergency
There is no requirement in Texas that owners of private pools post any signage.
Texas law also requires public pool owners to enclose the pool with a fence or similar barrier. See Section 265.200 of the Texas Administrative Code for specific requirements. The pool fence requirements for private pool owners in Texas are established by local ordinance.
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