Beware of Improperly Maintained Pools at Hotels When on your Family Vacation

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Summer weather means that families throughout the United States will set out on summer trips to fairs, carnivals, amusement parks, and other family-friendly destinations. Many of those vacationers may decide on an attraction located somewhere in Pennsylvania as their destination. Regardless of where you decide to visit, you will undoubtedly need somewhere to stay. Usually, this means that your family will stay at a hotel, motel, or other lodging facilities for a period of time.

Hotels and motels are in constant competition to provide more bang for the buck for traveling families. While some facilities reduce rates, others may tout the benefits of amenities such as a swimming pool. While a pool can provide for hours of family fun, it can also present a significant safety hazard to young children. When the pool is inadequately or improperly maintained, the risk of a life-altering injury or wrongful death increases further.

What Types of Risks Can Exist at a Hotel Pool?

Many mid to higher-end hotels are under pressure to present beautiful, immersive dreamscapes that combine water effects, lighting, and architectural design. Some facilities may present roaring waterfalls. However, each of these features can present unexpected hotel pool risks if precautions are not taken.

First, consider the sometimes elaborate designs utilized in some pool configurations. While a rectangular pool with a gently sloping bottom may be commonplace, it offers a predictable design that all are familiar with. By contrast, an elaborately designed pool may have an unusually steep and slippery decline to the deep end or a nonstandard depth configuration that drops off into deeper water unexpectedly. If depth markers are unclear, faded, or otherwise insufficient to communicate this risk, it is likely that less skilled swimmers could end up in a dangerous situation.

Multi-colored lighting that can fade, change, or otherwise project an atmospheric effect can transform a space, but it can present risks of its own. However, to see the lightning it may be necessary to dim the ambient lighting in the pool area. Dim lighting can lead to trips, slips, and falls on the pool deck or into the pool. Furthermore, if the lighting is variable, the changes in lighting can cause a swimmer to become disoriented when they are underwater. The changing intensity of light may cause them to think that they are surfacing when they are actually descending more deeply into the water. The swimmer can then potentially strike his or her head on the pool bottom leading to loss of consciousness and a potential traumatic brain injury. Furthermore, particularly busy displays may comprise the ability to see into the pool are. This can conceal problems in the pool area and delay the arrival of help.

Finally, the presence of elaborate waterfalls and other roaring water effects can conceal cries for help or that a person is in distress. If the waterfall empties into a swimming area, it can confuse swimmers who unexpectedly surface beneath it.

However, some common-sense safety measures can address at least some of these problems. While every pool is different and these suggestions do not represent a comprehensive solution, they are instructive as to the types of precautions that can improve safety. They include:

  • The presence of a safety line floating on buoys in the pool that delineates the start of the slop to the deep end. If the slope is non-linear, this solution can create its own problems and confuse swimmers.
  • The presence of rescue equipment like a life preserver or can reduce the risk of drowning when an incident occurs at the pool.
  • The presence of safety equipment, like life jackets and bubbles, for weaker swimmers can help prevent incidents. However, safety equipment of this type is no substitute to close supervision of a child.
  • The pool should have some means of calling for help at the site. In situations where there is a drowning risk, every second counts. An emergency phone is a commonly used method.
  • Posted warnings concerning any peculiarities of the pool should be displayed conspicuously. Hotels who fail to warn their guests of known risks are extremely likely to face liability.
  • Proper pool deck maintenance involves fixing cracks, clearing pooled water and other debris, and otherwise ensuring that the area around the pool is safe. When this duty is neglected, the risk of injury is increased

It is essential for hotels to provide both verbal and written warnings to their guests because the guests are not familiar with the pool or the hotel. Furthermore, the hotel, its staff, and its owners are most familiar with the facilities and in the best position to provide information about known risks that the guest is unlikely to identify or fully appreciate.

In general, a hotel pool must be equipped with greater and more comprehensive safety measure than one would find at a typical residential pool. Lack of guest’s familiarity with the premises, common usage of the facility by non-swimmers and children, and other facts all contribute to creating a need for safety precautions.

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Does a Hotel in Pennsylvania Owe A Legal Duty to Its Guests?

It is important to note that accidents and their resulting injuries are addressed by a body of law known as tort law. Laws addressing torts, wrongful acts that infringe on the rights of another, are defined on a state-by-state basis. So, while other state’s laws and judicial interpretations may bear some resemblance to Pennsylvania’s, they are independent and any accidents or injuries must be addressed under the laws and jurisprudence of the state.

That said, Pennsylvania’s handling of premises liability issues, like swimming pool injuries and deaths, is similar to that of other states in that the hotel and the hotel owner owes a duty to others who come onto the property. The extent of the duty is determined by the individual’s status at the time the injury occurred. Potential statuses and their corresponding legal liability include licensees and invitees. That is, whether you are entitled to financial compensation from the property owner or property manager is largely dependent upon whether you were permitted to be on the premises at the time of the accident and injury.

The category of the invitee is actually broken down into two similar, but disparate categories: business invitee and public invitees. A business invitee comes on to the premises for a specific business purpose at the behest of the property owner or the individual otherwise in charge of the grounds or facility. A public invitee is invited to come onto the premises for a purpose that is held open to the public. A licensee is permitted to come onto the grounds or facilities because he or she has the express or implied permission of the owner. Invitees and licensees are owed a duty by the hotel and its employees. Property owners or those who are exercising control over a facility must warn or protect these individuals from dangerous conditions that the property owner knows exist or should know exists. By contrast, there is no duty to protect undiscovered trespassers against even a known risk. However, the landowner may not intentionally or voluntarily injure the trespasser. If the trespasser is discovered, the owner must exercise reasonable care to warn or protect the discovered trespasser. But, all trespassers are not created equal. When the trespasser is a child, a duty to protect against artificial dangers—like a swimming pool – is triggered.

A hotel guest is permitted to be on the hotel grounds.  In light of the business purposes and permission to be present, the guest would likely be considered either a licensee or an invitee. With this status, a hotel guest would be entitled to the highest duty of care from the hotel owner or manager. However, whether liability would attach is an individualized inquiry based on the facts and circumstances presented by the particular incident. That is, whether liability attached would be dependent on whether the hotel management or workers knew or should have known about a risk or danger. The owner must then fail to take corrective action. If the guest then fails to appreciate or recognize that risk and suffers an injury, it is extremely likely that the hotel will be liable.

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Are there Other Laws Duties a Pennsylvania Hotel Must Follow to Make its Pool Safe?

Up until this point, the duties and obligations discussed have been common law based. That means that these obligations and duties flow from the part of English law, as adopted by the individual states that are derived from judicial decisions and precedent rather than through laws written by the legislature. Pennsylvania’s legislature has also enacted laws and regulations addressing safety and other concerns at swimming facilities and at other locations where water activities and bathing occur.

The Pennsylvania Bathing Code (28 Pa. Code §18)  sets forth the legislature’s view of what forms the proper design, operation, and maintenance of bathing and swimming locations held open to the public. However, the Pennsylvania legislature decided to exempt hotel pools from this law because hotel pools are explicitly excluded from covered “recreational swimming facilities.” However, the statute can show some of the considerations a pool owner, including a hotel, should make.

55 Pa. Code § 3270.115 & 55 Pa. Code 3280.115 regulate daycares including safe child-to-instructor ratios for swimming activities. Furthermore, daycare facilities with pools must take certain precautions including making built-in and above-ground pools inaccessible to kids when they are not in use. While these laws do not apply directly to hotels, hotels with on-site daycare may be impacted by these regulations. In any case, these rules show important safety considerations that should be made for pools that will be regularly used by small children.

Aside from state laws, there are also federal laws concerning the regulation of pools and swimming facilities. Following the death of a young Virginia girl due to the suction created by a drain on a spa. The suction caused the young girl to be entrapped in the water and she was only freed after two men pulled so hard, that they broke the drain cover. A similar risk exists in pool drains that can create suction and trap swimmers underwater. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (15 U.S.C.A. § 8001) was passed to prevent similar drowning deaths due to entrapment by pool drain suction. Under the law, public pools and pools for “patrons of a hotel or other public accommodations” must have an anti-entrapment design. The anti-entrapment design addresses the known risk that swimmers can be trapped underwater and drown. Hotels that fail to take this precaution and utilize a dangerous and defective drain cover are not only in violation of federal law, but also are extremely likely to be held liable for any injuries or wrongful deaths that occur on the premises.

Injured? Rely on our Premises Liability Experience

Wherever you set out on your family summer vacation, we hope that you have a great time and avoid any serious injuries or complications to your trip. But if you are hurt while traveling in Pennsylvania, the premises liability and personal injury attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm have been trusted by Pennsylvanians and Philadelphians for decades. When you work with a The Reiff Law Firm attorney, you can expect to receive professional service and aggressive and strategic representation. To schedule a free and private legal consultation call (215) 246-9000 today or contact us online.

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