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Lifeguards may seem like towering figures with their tall posts and zinced noses, but they can be liable for swimming injuries and deaths when they make mistakes.
For this reason, lifeguards are required to be certified and trained to deal with common emergencies that occur in and around pools. Different states' safety standards are not always identical, but they form a general patchwork of legal liability for when lifeguards falter in their duties.
For swimmers, here are three things you should know about lifeguard liability:
1. Lifeguard Duties, Certifications Are Regulated by State Law
There is no federal standard for how lifeguards need to be trained and certified, but most states have statutes which require Red Cross lifeguard and CPR training (or their equivalents) before an applicant can work as a lifeguard. For example, Texas requires lifeguard, CPR, and community first aid training for all lifeguards on duty, and where lifeguards are provided, no swimmers can be present in the pool unless a lifeguard is on duty.
States may also define what a lifeguard can do in terms of their on-job duties. California limits on-duty lifeguards to perform no duties "other than to supervise the safety of participants in water-contact activities."
2. Standards Are Higher for Lifeguards
Because of this web of legal requirements woven by state laws, lifeguards are often held to a higher legal standard when a person is injured or dies under their watch. In injury cases involving negligence of an average person, the law asks only if that person acted in giving the same care as a reasonable person might under those circumstances.
Those who belong to professions which have specific training related to injury, like lifeguards, are held to a different standard of care: How a reasonable lifeguard would have acted under the circumstances. This may lead a court to find a lifeguard negligent in providing aid when a reasonable lay person may have acted the same way.
3. No 'Good Samaritan' Protection
Unlike most people, on-duty lifeguards do have a legal duty to rescue and provide emergency aid to those in need -- it's pretty much their main jobs. For this reason, "Good Samaritan" protections do not provide lifeguards legal cover for mistakes or negligence on the job that leads to injury or death.
If you feel like you or a loved one has been injured by a lifeguard, contact a personal injury attorney today.