Hotel Pools: A Legacy Staple or a Litigation Liability?

It’s summer and both kids and adults alike are flocking to hotel pools once again. Yet the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reminds us that the number one cause of injury death for children between the ages of one and four is drowning, resulting in 390 lives lost annually. This tragic figure is amplified by the fact almost 5,000 children will be treated for pool-related injuries this year, including near-drowning incidents.

The good news is that hoteliers can take steps to control pool safety while fulfilling their legal responsibilities and obligations. Laws in most states ultimately speak to the “reasonable care” concept, which says that hotels have a duty to act “reasonably” in responding to a dangerous situation, whether by taking action, communicating the danger, or shutting the area down if the need arises. In court, once a plaintiff demonstrates that the hotel failed to comply with an applicable statute or show “reasonable care,” the presumption is that the care requirement was breached and, therefore, the hotel is liable.

The risk alone that pools pose, particularly to children, underlines the importance of hoteliers remaining vigilant in all things pool related. Below are safety precautions that hoteliers with pools on their properties must take.

Barring Intoxication
Pools must include signage statements and enforce policies including preventing intoxicated persons from being near or in the pool. Anyone with an alcoholic beverage should be asked to leave the pool area.


Preparing for Emergencies
Floatation and emergency devices need to be easily accessible, visible, and in good repair. Unfortunately, these devices are often mounted too high for fear that people will play with them, which can impede the reaction time or ability to save a life. Additionally, be sure that the pool has an emergency phone that rings directly to the desk or 911.

No Running
Never allow running or horseplay around the pool. Is that incorporated into your signage? Do you have a one warning policy–warn once, then evict?

Health and Hygiene
Do guests shower or rinse off before swimming? Pools are considered “public bathing” facilities, and hygiene is paramount when exposing others to a static body of water.

Reasonable care also includes bacteria control. Bacteria, coliform, or other foreign substances that are controlled by the filtration and treatment systems become your concern. Ask yourself how often your pool is tested.

Clear Signage
Both feet and meters should be used when marking pool depths on the coping and along the tile line. The world uses the metric system; therefore it is “reasonable” to expect that a good portion of travelers do too.

Closing Pool Access
During inclement weather, close the pool at the first sight of lightening. No exceptions.

When the pool needs to be drained, cleaned, or resurfaced, are locks engaged, gates closed, tarps deployed? “Dry” pools invite Tony Hawk imitators—a liability bonanza. Pools low on water, in the process of draining, or empty risk guests diving in who didn’t know, see, or otherwise weren’t told. The risk is theirs, the liability is the hotel’s.

Do gates close on their own and have good tension spring-loaded hinges with a full-clasp latch to prevent access unless properly unlocked or unlatched by the next guest?

Keeping Kids Safe
Almost 10 years ago the Virginia Graham Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGBA) was enacted to prevent underwater suction entrapment. Are AMSE/ANSI required drain covers in place at your pool?

Remove toys from the swimming pool so kids aren’t attracted to them. When not in active use, close the gates, rearrange furniture, pick up items left behind, and soften music. Always explain parents must closely watch children if the pool provides no lifeguard.

“Reasonable care” is your responsibility. Always be proactive and do what you can to mitigate risk.


About the Author 
Daniel Johnson, CHA, is a hotel analyst for Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible and vice president of operations at Argeo Hospitality, an Anthony Melchiorri Company. 

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Daniel A. Johnson, CHA, CHIA, is an award-winning hotelier with decades of industry experience. He currently serves as a consultant to hotel owners and developers throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.