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Airbnb Pool Drowning Reveals Risks of Short-Term Rentals

Image of an Airbnb pool

Rental companies like Airbnb and VRBO are more popular than ever… but at what cost? There is a plethora of risks for rental properties ranging from faulty fences, code violations, to pool maintenance issues.

Recently, a 16-year-old boy named Cameron Brown died at an Airbnb rental property when on a family vacation to celebrate spring break.

Upon their arrival, Cameron entered the swimming pool, unaware of the two concealed slopes within it. He slipped on one of these slopes, lost his footing, and was unable to swim back to the shallow area. Despite his mother’s efforts to save him by jumping into the pool, she couldn’t pull him out. Cameron’s death was attributed to Airbnb’s negligence for not warning about the hidden slopes.

Airbnb pool drowning the result of negligence

The family attorneys claimed that Airbnb, and other defendants, had a duty to ensure the swimming pool was reasonably safe and to alert users to any known hazards. Due to the lack of regulation in the short-term rental market, preventable injuries and wrongful deaths among guests are likely to persist.

There is no governing authority or standardized regulations for short-term rentals. Legally, Airbnb does not have to follow the same standards that hotels and resorts must follow for pool regulations. However, Airbnb terms of service do require that property owners who rent out their homes must follow the local regulations involving pool safety. Thus, Airbnb only would have required the owner of the property in Brown’s case to follow the local pool regulations mandated by the town of Orange Park.

Filing a lawsuit against short-term rentals

It is difficult, but not impossible, to directly sue Airbnb. The company’s terms of service require a new user to agree to the terms upon creation of a new account. Thus, when a person signs up and creates an account, the company necessitates the user to agree to a clause in the terms of service that reads in part, “You and Airbnb agree that any dispute, claim or controversy arising out of or relating to these Terms or the breach, termination, enforcement, interpretation or validity thereof, or to the use of the Services or use of the Site or Application (collectively, “Disputes”) will be settled by binding arbitration.”

As a result of the arbitration clause included in the terms of service, it’s likely that a person will have to submit to arbitration instead of taking their claim to state or federal court. For example, in a Federal Court in the District of Columbia a plaintiff was required to submit to binding arbitration instead of having their claim litigated in court. In 2021 in Selden v. Airbnb, a federal judge denied hearing a racial discrimination case brought under Title II and required the parties to take part in arbitration as a result of Airbnb’s terms of service. The Court noted that Airbnb’s sign-up screen placed the man on notice of the Terms of Service, and therefore he agreed to the Terms when he signed up; the claim is arbitrable, and the terms of service were not unconscionable in this case.

Pool safety is still the responsibility of Airbnb and other short-term rentals

However, a person may succeed on bringing a claim to court and bypass the terms of service arbitration clause if a court determines it was unconscionable when a user agreed to it. For example, in Peterson v. Devita, a man attended a party at an Airbnb property that was booked by a friend when he fell off an elevated deck when a railing gave way. Here, arbitration was not compelled. The Court noted that the arbitration provision should apply only when the claims arise from the man’s use of the Airbnb platform and not merely because he created an account; he only created an account at the direction of his friend who made the booking.

When on vacation, be sure not to relax your vigilance regarding safety and security. Short-term rental properties offer a nice and quiet respite; however, they are not without particular dangers. In the event of an injury or accident, seek legal counsel. Dolan Law is a top-rated trial law firm representing victims of wrongdoing with a combined experience of over 30 years in the law.

George King is a rising third-year law student at Belmont University College of Law in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to law school, George graduated summa cum laude from Furman University. He works as a law clerk for Dolan Law in Chicago.

Marty Dolan is the owner of Dolan Law, Chicago. He is a trial lawyer and has been so for over 30 years. Dolan Law handles catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases, including crime victim litigation. He is appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Character and Fitness and The Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee. He is a Clarendon Hills resident. See


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