California Homeowner Not Responsible for Tragic Death of Five-Year-Old in Pool

In an appeal taken in a California swimming pool accident lawsuit following the drowning death of a five-year-old boy, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendants.  The issue before the appellate court was whether the defendants owed a duty of care and whether there was evidence a dangerous condition on their property contributed to the tragic accident.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and the plaintiffs appealed.

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In this case, the father of the deceased boy brought a general negligence action against the defendants for failing to supervise and pay attention to their child.  In their premises liability claim, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants ignored or allowed dangerous conditions in and around the pool.  The boy’s mother had left the boy’s grandfather in charge of the boy once he arrived at the party at the defendant’s home. The mother knew that her son did not know how to swim, and her father (the boy’s grandfather) advised the defendant that he would take over supervising the boy. After losing sight of the boy, his grandfather found him underneath the water in the main pool, and efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

After submitting evidence in support of their motion for summary judgment, the court found in favor of the defendants, since the boy’s grandfather had explicitly agreed to supervise the boy, and the mother had remained on the premises.  Despite the declaration of a civil engineer and expert in engineering, the court found that there was not a triable issue of material fact regarding whether the pool was in a dangerous condition.  Finally, there had not been evidence that a dangerous condition in the pool caused the boy’s death.

On review, the court stated the rule for negligent supervision, which states that defendants are not, simply by being homeowners, responsible for supervising children invited onto their property when parents are present.  Generally, parents maintain control over their child to make sure they avoid obvious dangers, such as a swimming pool.  However, when a host expressly or impliedly agrees to supervise a child while the minor is on the premises, the homeowner may be found liable for negligent supervision.

In this case, the host (the defendant) had agreed to supervise the boy when he and his mother arrived at the party.  The issue for the court was whether it had been negligent in delegating supervision to the boy’s grandfather.  The grandfather had agreed to watch the boy, and he was a responsible adult and a fireman.  The court here stated there was no reason why a person who agreed to supervise a child may not delegate that responsibility to another adult.  When that second party has been negligent, the court stated, there is no basis for imposing liability on the first party.

Next, the court rejected the plaintiff’s contention that since the host had been “shocked” when he saw the grandfather inside the house, and he contemplated sending the boy home, there was an issue of fact concerning negligent supervision.  The court stated it would have been safe for the boy in the pool if the supervising adult had used care.  The grandfather had assured the host that he assumed supervisory duties, and simply because the host was concerned did not create an issue of fact for the negligent supervision claim.

Regarding the claim of premises liability, the rule is that a real property owner is not the insurer of a visitor’s personal safety.  An owner is responsible for injuries to others if they have not maintained the land in their possession in a safe condition.  Here, the plaintiff had alleged that by resurfacing the pool from “light to dark” and adding a Jacuzzi and waterfall, as well as other elements to the pool, they played a role in the boy’s drowning.

The appellate court stated that a waterfall and slide are considered to be normal conditions surrounding pools.  Since guests create noise and agitate the water when entering and exiting the pool, it is unreasonable to expect pool owners to impose quiet and calm.  Here, there was no evidence rippling water or noise contributed to the tragedy here. Instead, the court stated that constant, close supervision is the reliable way to keep young children safe in adult pools.

The court affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendants.

At Sharifi Firm, we help individuals and families dealing with the tragic aftermath of fatal accidents in and around swimming pools. Our Southern California swimming pool accident lawyers provide compassionate, efficient representation to those pursuing claims for compensation. We offer a no-obligation, free consultation and can be reached by calling 1-866-422-7222 or online.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds Primary Assumption of Risk Bars Negligence Claim in Recreational Swimming Pool Accident Lawsuit Because Swimming Presents Inherent Risk of Drowning and Injury, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 23, 2016

California Court Finds Landlord Did Not Owe Duty of Care in Lawsuit Following Drowning Accident, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 25, 2016

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