There are an average of ten deaths daily in the United States as a result of unintentional drownings. It is one of the top five causes of accidental death, and is particularly fatal to children under the age of 14. Drowning is a worldwide health hazard, and the risk is not always taken as seriously as it should be by public swimming pool operators, including hotel swimming pools.
North Carolina is no exception to the rule: on average, 29 children in North Carolina die from accidental drowning every year. The majority of those children who drown are between the ages of 1 to 4 years old:
Source: NC DHHS
If your family or another loved one has suffered a tragedy as a result of an accidental drowning, we know that pursuing legal remedies will not be the first thought on your mind. However, when a company that runs a swimming pool or other swimming locations acts negligently, the best way to change the bad behavior of corporations is to pursue compensation against the pool operator. By deterring lax pool standards, it is possible to help prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.
It is important that you contact a swimming pool drowning lawyer soon after a drowning incident so that the lawyer can preserve all the evidence necessary to pursue your claim, such as security camera footage, water samples and test results, and other physical evidence. Time is often of the essence when it comes to properly pursuing a case against a reckless pool operator. Call Melrose Law today to get a free case consultation with no obligations to see if we can help you with your claim.
What Laws Apply to Swimming Pool Drowning Cases in North Carolina?
North Carolina pools must follow the North Carolina Administrative Code, which mandates specific requirements for water testing, water clarity (including prohibiting cloudy water), safety equipment, and the conditions in which a pool must be closed. Public swimming pools are required to have a certified pool operator, and must test their pool water quality daily.
Some of the most common issues with pools giving rise to a claim against the pool owner or operator include:
- Cloudy water resulting in a drowning
- Pool safety regulations require that a person be able to see the bottom drain in the pool while standing on the pool deck at all times. Should the water be too cloudy to see the main drain, the pool must be closed immediately.
- Mechanical Issues (such as getting trapped in faulty equipment or electrical shocks)
- Design issues
- Lack of required safety equipment
- Overcrowded swimming conditions
- Poorly trained lifeguards or other staff
- Other violations of the standards that Certified Pool Operators must follow
Proving a North Carolina Drowning Case: Negligence
In just about any personal injury case in North Carolina, including drowning cases, the injured party or their surviving family members must prove three things to be successful in recovering from the at-fault party.
- That the at-fault party had a legal duty to the decedent.
- That the at-fault party breached that legal duty.
- The breach of the legal duty caused the decedent to drown.
A legal duty is broadly defined as another person or company’s obligation not to harm someone. In a pool drowning case, the pool owner or operator has a duty to maintain their pool in a manner that is safe for their guests to use
The extent of this duty to maintain varies based upon who owns the pool. A neighbor who has a pool in their backyard and is only used at neighborhood barbeques will not be held to the same standard as a hotel who maintains a pool for their guests to use every day
In addition, the legal duty also depends on who is using the pool. A paying guest at a hotel is definitely owed a duty of care, while a trespasser who sneaks into someone’s back yard in the middle of the night may not be owed the same level of care as the hotel guest.
Breach of the Legal Duty
Once it has been established that the pool owner had a legal duty to keep the pool safe for the enjoyment of the individual who drowned, the decedent’s family must prove that the at-fault party breached their duty of care to the decedent.
Returning to the section above, all of those violations that give rise to a claim would likely be considered to be a breach of the legal duty owed to the at-fault party’s pool guests.
The most common breaches of the legal duty include cloudy water, mechanical issues with filters or drains, and lack of required safety equipment.
The harmed party must be able to prove that this failure was a breach of the at-fault party’s duty to maintain the pool in a safe condition.
Causation is the most difficult element of a drowning negligence claim for most people (including lawyers), to wrap their heads around. It is not enough to show that the pool operator breached a legal duty to the person who died: you must be able to prove that the breach of the duty was what caused your family member to drown.
The easiest way to explain this distinction is to just use two examples, the first highlighting a successful showing of causation, and the second showcasing a scenario where the at-fault party did not cause the drowning.
Example One: There is a party at a backyard pool. The pool water is very cloudy due to poor maintenance and the large number of people who have been swimming in the pool all afternoon. There are many people standing around the pool. A young child falls into the pool and immediately disappears beneath the surface, and nobody can see the child at the bottom of the pool. The child drowns because nobody can see them.
In this instance causation is clear: The breach of the duty of care, failure to maintain clear water, was the reason that the child drowned. There were plenty of people around the pool that would have noticed the child in the water in plenty of time to rescue them.
Example Two: Take the same backyard pool scenario used for example one. However, instead of everyone standing outside, the guests are all inside the house. The child walks through the backdoor into the backyard, and falls into the pool. There is no one around to notice.
There would likely not be legal causation in this scenario, as the cloudy water was not the cause of the child’s drowning. The child would more likely than not have drowned in this situation even if the water were clear.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you determine whether there is a legal basis for pursuing a drowning claim against an at-fault pool operator, and will work through the investigatory process to give you the help that you deserve.
How Melrose Law Investigates a Drowning Claim
We are dedicated to helping families who are victims of drowning caused by the negligence of others. Our goal is to both prove that the pool operator is at-fault, and to recover the maximum amount of damages in recognition of the harm caused by the pool operator.
Each case is unique, and requires a different approach to obtain the best possible result. Below is a list of different ways we thoroughly investigate drowning claims:
- Obtain photographs and videos of the incident. If the drowning occurred at a hotel pool, there is likely a video the incident. We will move quickly to make sure that video is preserved, so that we can get a better understanding of exactly how the drowning occurred.
- Interview witnesses to the drowning. Memories fade quickly, even of extremely traumatic events. The team at Melrose Law will reach out to the witnesses of the drowning to get their best recollection of events while it is still fresh in their memories. We can get witnesses to sign witness statements or affidavits to preserve their testimony.
- Get samples of the pool water. While this is not always possible, when water clarity is an issue in a case, we will seek to get a sample of the water so that it can be examined by an expert in pool safety to determine why the water was cloudy. If there is a police investigation into the drowning, we will attempt to work with the police officers in any way that we can.
- Retain expert witnesses in pool safety and drowning. We will work with nationally respected experts in pool safety and drowning to determine the best way to approach your case, and whether we can prove the three elements of negligence: duty, breach, and causation. We are dedicated to getting the best results for our clients, and will pay for the most qualified experts necessary to get a favorable result for our clients.
If you believe the drowning incident of a loved one may have been caused by the negligence of the pool owner or operator, an Asheville swimming pool lawyer may be able to provide relief for you and your family.
To get the compensation you deserve for the tragedy that occurred, you need an experienced trial attorney to represent your best interests. At Melrose law, we are dedicated to getting the best result possible for you and your loved ones. To schedule a free case review call 800- 222-2430. Feel free to contact us online. We have law offices in Asheville and Waynesville to better serve your needs.