When Can a Lifeguard Be Held Liable for a Pool Drowning?

Posted on September 26, 2018

Swimming pool accidents can happen every day in Los Angeles. Over a 10-year period, 3,536 people died in U.S. unintentional drowning incidents – an average of about 10 deaths per day. Among victims ages one to four, swimming pools are the most common setting for fatal drownings. If someone else was negligent in supervising swimmers in a public or private pool, accident victims or their family members may have the right to file an injury claim against the supervisor. The premises liability attorneys at Panish Shea & Boyle LLP offer years of experience in this area and can help with your case.

What situations and circumstances can a lifeguard be held liable for a pool drowning in California?

#1: Inattention on the Clock

One of the most common factors involved in fatal pool drowning incidents is inadequate or negligent supervision. Adults at a pool party, teachers or coaches during a school function, or lifeguards at public pools all owe duties of care to swimmers, depending on the situation. Since a lifeguard is a hired professional, he or she must comply with strict standards of care toward swimmers while on duty. Acts of negligence such as leaving the premises, looking at a cell phone, or falling asleep on the job could result in liability if it contributes to a pool drowning.

Panish Shea & Boyle has firsthand experience with a case involving a certified lifeguard, Keith Good, who claimed to be “off the clock” at the time of a seventh-grade student’s fatal drowning accident. Our firm filed a wrongful death claim against the school district where the incident occurred on behalf of the victim’s family. Even if a lifeguard is not on the clock, he or she may still be legally responsible for a drowning under California’s Good Samaritan Law, which says lifeguards and other professionals have a duty to be good Samaritans and offer help in emergency situations.

#2: Failure to React to Emergency Situations

If a lifeguard failed to react quickly enough to an emergency situation – such as a swimmer’s head going under water – it could constitute negligence if another lifeguard would have reacted faster in similar circumstances. A judge will analyze the situation and decide whether a reasonable and prudent lifeguard would have done something differently according to the facts of the case. Since it is a lifeguard’s professional duty to react promptly in emergencies, failure to do so could qualify as a breach of duty in a personal injury claim.

#3: Inability to Use Training to Save Swimmers

It is also a lifeguard’s professional duty to use his or her training to provide adequate medical and other services to save the victim’s life and minimize injuries. If a lifeguard freezes, can’t remember training, or otherwise fails to act in a responsible manner and this contributes to a victim’s injuries or death, the lifeguard could be liable. Note, however, that adult swimmers have to give their permission to lifeguards before they will perform life-saving measures. This type of loophole may protect lifeguards from liability in some situations.

#4: Lack of Vital CPR Knowledge

Knowing how to perform CPR is one of the most basic necessities of being a licensed and certified lifeguard. If a lifeguard doesn’t know CPR, never received his/her license, or simply fails to perform CPR at a critical time, he or she could be responsible for resulting damages. It is up to the victim or his/her family to prove that a lifeguard reasonably should have performed CPR or taken other measure to prevent the victim’s injuries. Proving fault is the only way to obtain compensation from a negligent lifeguard in California.

Third-Party Liability in Swimming Pool Accidents?

Many cases involve more than one party potentially liable for unintentional drowning. For example, the pool owner may share liability for failing to hire or train skilled lifeguards. Any party that owed the victim a duty of care, breached this duty, and contributed to the incident may be legally responsible. A lawyer can help with the burden of proof in a pool drowning case and prove a lifeguard’s negligence. If you or your loved one was injured or drowned in a swimming pool, contact the Los Angeles premises liability lawyers at Panish Shea & Boyle LLP for a free consultation about your case! Call our Santa Monica office today! (310) 477-1700

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