Lifeguard Negligence

When lifeguards are negligent in keeping people safe at the beach or swimming pool, the lifeguard, employer, and property owner may be liable for damages. When someone is injured because of lifeguard negligence, the injury victim can file a California personal injury lawsuit for damages

If a lifeguard's negligence causes a child to suffer a drowning accident, the family member may have a wrongful death claim to hold the lifeguard and others responsible for their negligence. 

Below, our California personal injury attorneys address frequently asked questions about lawsuits filed as a result of lifeguard negligence and for the injuries you may have suffered:

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Navigating the complex legal process of suing a lifeguard or the employer is difficult but not impossible.

1. What is negligence?

To prove a case of lifeguard negligence, it must first be proven that negligence occurred which caused injury. If a lifeguard was negligent, your attorney can file a personal injury lawsuit on your behalf. You may be entitled to money damages if that negligence caused you harm.

To recover damages for negligence, the injured person must prove three things:

  1. That the lifeguard owed the injured person a duty of care;
  2. That he or she breached that duty by committing some negligent act;
  3. That the lifeguard's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the injury.

1.1 What is a "duty of care?"

A duty of care is a duty to prevent foreseeable harm to others when it is reasonable to do so. Most people are subject to a very general duty of care to act reasonably to avoid harm to others.

Many duties of care are imposed by law, such as through a special relationship, or a state or local law. For example, doctors have a duty of care to their patients. In the context of lifeguards, each one has a duty of care by law to protect those under their supervision. Failure to live up to that duty of care can lead to liability for any injuries caused as a result.

1.2 What is the legal definition of negligence?

A person is negligent if he or she:

  • Acts in a way that a reasonably careful and prudent person would not act in the same or similar situations, or
  • Fails to act in a way that a reasonably careful and prudent person would act in the same or similar situation.

If a person fails to act as a reasonable person would do, he or she is negligent and may be responsible for any injuries he or she causes to another person.

1.3 What is a substantial factor?

Just because there is a theoretical link between a person's negligent conduct and the eventual harm, does not mean that the negligence necessarily caused the injuries. Instead, the negligent act must be the actual or "proximate" cause of the injury.

"Proximate" cause is a legal way of saying that the negligent act is a substantial factor in causing the injury. It must be sufficiently connected to the injury to justify holding the negligent person responsible for the harm caused.

2. What kinds of injuries are caused by lifeguard negligence?

As a result of lifeguard negligence, serious injuries can result. These include:

The types of injuries which can happen vary a lot, but when those injuries are caused by another person's negligence you are entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit to protect your rights and obtain the financial compensation you deserve.

Example: Claire has taken her 6-year-old son Jack to the local community pool. A lifeguard is on duty but has spent more time talking to his girlfriend than watching the swimmers. Jack falls into the deep end, but is not a good swimmer, so he begins to drown. The lifeguard does not see and Jack drowns. As a result, a personal injury lawsuit can be filed against the lifeguard and the community pool.

After suffering an injury caused by lifeguard negligence, injury victims can file a lawsuit to recover damages, including: 

3. Who can be held liable for lifeguard negligence?

It is not only the lifeguard him or herself that can be liable for injuries caused by negligence. Other responsible parties might exist, such as:

  • Pool manager,
  • Pool owner,
  • Fellow lifeguard,
  • Training supervisor.

Depending on the facts of your unique case, one or multiple of the parties listed above may be responsible for compensating you for your injuries. The experienced attorneys at the Shouse Law Group will help you know who is responsible and file a personal injury lawsuit against them.

4. When is a lifeguard negligent?

A lifeguard can be negligent in a variety of different ways, but a few common scenarios are the most common, and often, the most tragic. A lifeguard is required to act in a way that a reasonable lifeguard would do in the same situation, and if he or she does not, injuries may result.

Common examples of when injuries can occur include when the lifeguard:

  • Fails to supervise the water attentively for drownings, or situations in which other injuries may occur;
  • Is overly tired and is not able to adequately perform the duties of the job;
  • Leaves the stand when not authorized to do so, or leaves without having another person take the seat;
  • Is not properly trained in life-saving techniques such as First Aid or CPR;
  • Comes to work intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, or is hungover and unable to concentrate; or
  • Fails to have life-saving devices nearby (flotation device, first aid kit).

4.1 Are lifeguards required to be certified or trained in a certain way?

Depending on the state in which the lifeguard is working, he or she may be required to undergo specific training or meet certain certification requirements. Most states and local governments require that lifeguards have some form of certification which shows that they are knowledgeable and trained to protect people from the possible risks of swimming. Lifeguards are often able to get this training through groups such as the YMCA or the American Red Cross. 1 2

If a lifeguard is not properly trained or certified as required, this can be considered in determining negligence and may result in "negligence per se" which simply means that a violation of a law automatically qualifies as negligence.

4.2 Can I sue the lifeguard directly?

If a lifeguard is negligent, you can file a personal injury lawsuit directly against him or her. As they are responsible for the injuries caused by their negligence, lifeguards can be sued for financial compensation. However, many lifeguards do not possess sufficient property to compensate you for your injuries.

5. Can I file a lawsuit against the lifeguard's employer?

The employer of a lifeguard can be sued as the result of a legal doctrine called respondeat superior.3 Also called "vicarious liability" this legal rule means that employers can be held responsible for the actions of their employees when:

  • the employee is acting within the ordinary scope of his or her employment, and
  • as the result of the employee's wrongful actions, someone is injured.

The ordinary scope of employment means that the lifeguard was engaging in normal lifeguard activities when he or she caused the injury. If the employee was acting outside the scope of employment when he or she caused the injury, the employer may not be held liable for the employee's actions.

5.1 What is negligent hiring, supervising, or retaining?

Another reason an employer may be responsible for the negligence of its employees is that the employer was negligent in hiring that employee. To prove a defendant was negligent in hiring, supervising, or retaining an employee in California the plaintiff must show that:

  1. The employee was unfit or incompetent to perform the work for which he or she was hired;
  2. The employer knew or should have known that the employee was unfit or incompetent and that it created a particular risk to others;
  3. The employee's unfitness or incompetence harmed the plaintiff; and
  4. The employer's negligence in hiring, supervising, or retaining the employee was a substantial factor in causing the victim's harm.

If the employer failed to act as a normal employer would in hiring, supervising, or retaining a lifeguard it will be responsible for that employee's actions.

Example: The local YMCA hires Chris to be a lifeguard. The YMCA knows that Chris failed his lifeguard training twice, and is not certified. However, they desperately need someone to cover Thursday nights, so they hire him. While Chris is on duty, Suzanne slips into the pool and begins to drown in the deep end.
Chris jumps in to save her, but is unable to pull her up out of the water. (Chris failed his tests because he could never pass that portion of the test). Because the employer knew Chris was not certified, and that he struggled to pull people from the deep end, it will be responsible for his negligence.

6. What is a liability waiver?

Certain pools may require you to sign a liability waiver. Liability waivers provide a strong defense against a personal injury lawsuit. Typical waivers include language that holds a person not liable for injuries which occur as a result of swimming activities, including the negligence of owners, their employees, the property, or even the lifeguard him or herself.

While a liability waiver cannot prevent the filing of a lawsuit, they very often lead to very limited damages or outright dismissal of a case. They also serve as a deterrent against filing the lawsuit in the first place.

6.1 When is a liability waiver enforceable?

Not all liability waivers are enforceable. Depending on the state, very specific requirements may exist for liability waivers to be enforceable.

In California, in order for a liability waiver to be enforceable, the waiver must:

  • Thoroughly inform of the risks: General statements such as "swimming is dangerous" are not enough; the waiver should spell out more specific risks within the document.
  • Comply with all California laws: California law has certain requirements associated with valid and binding agreement or contracts which must be followed.
  • Signatures of the proper parties: The agreement should list the parties whose liability is being released, and those parties must sign the document. The waiver should also list the person giving away their rights, such as the rider. A person can only give away their own rights, so only the person who signed is likely covered by a waiver. The exception is for children, who cannot sign themselves but must have a parent or legal guardian sign the waiver for them.

6.2 What if the liability waiver is not enforceable?

If the liability waiver is defective in some way, making it not enforceable, the court will not hold the parties to the agreement. However, the court will still consider whether the parties involved were negligent and whether they should be responsible for your particular injuries.

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Call us for help...

For questions about filing a lawsuit based on lifeguard negligence or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at the Shouse Law Group.

We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.


Legal References:

  1. YMCA. Lifeguard Training.
  2. American Red Cross. Lifeguard & Water Safety Training.
  3. Legal Information Institute. Respondeat Superior.

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