How to Avoid Hotel Pool Problems

Your hotel's pool complex is one of your hotel's prized centerpieces, but it also may be its most dangerous place. Legionnaire's Disease has seen outbreaks this year at hotel swimming pools in Illinois and Florida, resulting in the death of a guest at each property. According to the Center for Disease Control, the dangerous legionella bacteria thrives in warm water and can infect a swimmer who merely inhales a contaminated pool's water spray.

Drowning continues to be one of the leading causes of unintentional death for children and teenagers. And, for every such fatality, three other children are involved in non-fatal incidents.

There are countless other injuries that may occur at your pool as well, from slip-and-falls on the pool deck to injuries as a result of diving into shallow waters.

So, what legal issue should be your focus? Let's examine negligence law.

When injured, a plaintiff must prove four issues in order to make out a proper case for negligence: the defendant had a legal duty to use reasonable care to prevent injury; the defendant breached that duty; the plaintiff suffered definable injury; and a link (what is legally called “causation”) exists between the breach of the duty and the injury.

In the case of swimming pool negligence, a plaintiff suing a hotel first must prove that the hotel legally owed the guest a duty of care: It is hard to suggest that a reasonable person would not think that a hotel has a legal obligation to keep its guests safe.

Next, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the hotel breached this legal obligation: Oftentimes, the fact that no pool gate was installed or an untrained lifeguard was sleeping on the job speaks for itself.

Next, the plaintiff must show actual damages: Hospital fees, missed employment, or loss of future life-and-times enjoyment would fit this bill.

Finally, the plaintiff must demonstrate that there exists some “causation” between, say, the lack of a pool gate and the hospital bills incurred when a child wandered into the pool area and fell into the water: A reasonable person usually would be able to put two and two together and see either a direct or indirect link between the lack of the pool gate and the child's injuries.

So, how can you best avoid negligence issues related to your hotel pool? Here are a number of practical steps to consider:

  • Start by surrounding the pool and deck with a fence, one that children can't easily open. Yes, it will look different, but think of the consequences of failing to secure your pool.

  • If you hire a lifeguard, hire carefully. Hiring a properly certified lifeguard — one who has undergone life-saving and CPR training from organizations such as the American Red Cross — will help demonstrate that you have taken the appropriate steps to secure your patrons' safety.

  • Treat decks with slip-proof surfaces. While doing so won't prevent slip-and-fall injuries, it will cut down on their potential and may help shield you from liability.

  • Regularly check the pH levels of your pool, even between your pool cleaner's professional scrubbings. Since different parts of the country may be susceptible to differing strains of Legionnaire's or other bacteria, be sure to check with your pool care expert as to the proper chlorine-to-water balance to keep the water safe.

As with every aspect of pool safety, your job is to avoid swimming pool disaster and keep everyone happy, healthy and safe.


Ted Curtis is a professor of sports administration at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. He served for six years as in-house legal counsel for the University of South Florida. Curtis can be reached at 561-237-7857 or TCurtis@lynn.edu.

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