Tis the season for pool parties! Do you wonder what sort of liability you are taking on by having one? We recently had a reader ask about whether or not she needed a waiver of liability for a pool party she was planning. I decided to answer her question by creating this post explaining some of the issues.
There is nothing “special” about pool owners’ liability in Maryland. The rules are the same rules as for any premises liability case. The same rules would apply if a friend slipped and fell on your kitchen floor.
Generally speaking, a written waiver of liability is not going to do you much good if you host a pool party. First, it is probably going to be off putting to your guests. Second, it is probably not going to keep you out of trouble if something happens anyway. It would be something to use in your defense, but not enough that I would recommend anyone with a pool party get a signed waiver from your guests. I personally have a pool, and have had several pool parties, but I don’t get anyone to sign waivers. (And that’s not my pool, by the way. I wish!)
Got Insurance? – The absolute first and foremost thing you can do to protect yourself if hosting a pool party in Maryland is to be sure you are adequately insured. If something bad happens, you want to be in a position where you turn it over to your insurance company and let them deal with it.
If you own the house, you better have adequate liability insurance. If you rent, you better have renters insurance. The amount should at least equal your own personal assets. Do you know what your homeowners’ insurance covers? Do you know your policy limits? You should. If you don’t, go dig out that declarations page (the one that states your limits of coverage) and find out.
Got an Umbrella? – We strongly recommend that anyone with any significant assets get an umbrella coverage rider on top your homeowners’ coverage. You will be shocked to find out how reasonable the cost is. If you have a pool, you should get at least $1 million coverage.
If you don’t know what this is, you should talk to your homeowners’ insurance company today. They will explain, and can give you a quote.
Obey the Laws – Specifically, I am talking about the laws applying to pools. You do have to comply with the statutory duties of pool owners in Maryland.
One of the main ones is to make sure your pool is fenced in. Theoretically, you couldn’t have a pool built without a fence. But if yours was torn down or fell down, and you didn’t repair or replace it, you are subjecting yourself to a major liability problem.
Make sure you have a fence that is solid, with no gaps or breaks where someone could climb through, and a gate the closes tightly. In particular, you want a fence that a small child cannot get through. Small children are what you are mainly worried about keeping out of your pool.
And since I am talking about parties, I will say something that almost goes without saying – don’t serve alcohol to minors! If something bad happens (at your house or later when they leave), you are going to be on the hook. You could face criminal charges on top of a liability claim. Regardless of your thoughts on the drinking age, you better obey it if you have a party at your house.
What’s Your Status? – In Maryland, your status on the property determines whether the owner owes you a duty, and if so, how much of a duty the owner owes you. Here is how it breaks down:
Invitee – A person invited or permitted on your property for purposes related to your business. When you go shopping at a store, you are an invitee. You owe an invitee the highest level of care. You must use reasonable care to see that your property is safe for their use.
Social Guest – A person on your property for no business purpose, but at your implied or express invitation. A pool party guest would be a social guest. You must use reasonable care to make the premises safe, or to warn the guest of known dangers that they cannot reasonably discover themselves. For purposes of this article, you better warn the guests if the diving board is broken, or if there is a loose cover on the skimmer, or if your ladder is wobbly. And you must try to make those items safe for your guests to use.
Bare Licensee – A person on the property with your consent, but not at your invitation, and who is there to serve their own interests. A police office responding to a call at your residence is a bare licensee. You must refrain from willfully injuring or entrapping a bare licensee. Otherwise, they take the property as they find it.
Trespasser – A person on your property without your consent. The same duty is owed them as a bare licensee. You cannot willfully injure them, but otherwise you owe them no duty at all. (Except, however, you have to obey the laws about owning a pool – like having a fence.)
So there you have it. First, be sure you are adequately insured. Second, obey the laws and regulations about owning pools. Third, reasonably maintain your pool and house so your guests aren’t exposed to hazards. Fourth, warn your guests of any hazards that you know about.
After you do those four things, enjoy your pool party!