Drowning/Pool Injuries

There is nothing more inviting than a crystal clear pool, a shimmering lake, or the waves lapping up onto the beach on a hot summer day. Every year, millions flock to their favorite water hole – be it the local pool club, a private residential pool, beachside resort, hotel pool, apartment pool, lake, pond, river, quarry or reservoir. Or perhaps a pool on a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean, or a water park at an amusement park. But a frolic in the water can quickly turn into a nightmare – an unsupervised child slips into the deep end, is accidentally pushed into the water, or inadvertently inhales water, panics and loses consciousness; a diver hits the bottom of the pool and loses consciousness; innocent horseplay leads to dunking and loss of breath; a perfectly able swimmer suffers a heart attack, a stroke, or simply faints; a diver hits the diving board as he dives and is unconscious before even entering the water; an undertow at the beach pulls a capable swimmer further and further away from shore.

An owner fails to erect or maintain a proper barrier around a pool or other body of water as expressly required by law. An unwary child wanders up to the barrier and gets in through that inadequate barrier, slips into the pool and drowns.

These are all real life occurrences that happen every year without exception.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2005-2009, there were an average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States – about 10 deaths per day. About 1 in 5 people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. And for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

Even if a drowning victim does not die, he or she can suffer severe brain damage, depending on the length of time of oxygen deprivation. Brain damage can start to occur after just several minutes of submersion, and the longer the submersion, the greater the likelihood of more severe and irreversible brain damage. The level of brain injury can run the gamut from mild short-term memory loss to persistent vegetative state requiring 24/7 care and attention.

As described in the American Red Cross Lifeguarding Manual (the authority that sets the national standards of care for lifeguards):

The process of drowning begins when water enters the victim’s airway. This causes involuntary breath holding and then laryngospasm (a sudden closure of the larynx or windpipe). When this occurs, air cannot reach the lungs. During this time, the victim is unable to breathe but may swallow large quantities of water into the stomach. As oxygen levels are reduced, the laryngospasm begins to subside and the victim may gasp for air but instead inhales water into the lungs. Due to inadequate oxygen to body tissues, cardiac arrest may occur. This can happen in as little as 3 minutes after submerging. Brain damage or death can occur in as little as 4 to 6 minutes. The sooner the drowning process is stopped by getting the victim’s airway out of the water, opening the airway and providing resuscitation (ventilations or CPR), the better the chances are for survival without permanent brain damage. http://www.instructorscorner.org/media/resources/LGcandidates/LG_PM.pdf

Statistically, children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates. Across all ages, the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African Americans is several times higher than that of Caucasians.

Most states have strict statutes and regulations governing the maintenance and operations of swimming facilities. Some states set forth the specific lifeguard-to-swimmer ratio requirement, so that lifeguards are not overtaxed by being given too large of an area to surveil. Water clarity is also important. Many experts agree that if a swimming facility is properly operated and staffed with the requisite number of certified lifeguards, no patron should drown. The American Red Cross expressly states in its manual that lifeguards should be able to recognize and respond to a drowning victim within 30 seconds. Some experts refer to this as the “10 – 20 Rule,” namely, a lifeguard should recognize a swimmer in distress within 10 seconds of its occurrence, and rescue within 20 seconds. Lifeguards accomplish this by visually scanning their assigned section of the pool, etc., every 10 seconds. They must also scan all the way to the bottom of the pool – not simply the surface. A victim may be lying on the bottom of the diving well, for example.

But all too often, lifeguards are either not doing their jobs properly or not doing their jobs at all. They let themselves become distracted, or they get lazy. They are more interested in looking at scantily clad patrons of the opposite sex sunning themselves on chaise lounges or walking by on the pool deck. Or they start chatting with a friend and divert their eyes away from the pool. Or they start dozing off. Perhaps their training was faulty, or they were not retested or recertified frequently enough. It takes just a split-second for a swimmer to become distressed, and because of the nature of drowning, oftentimes the victim will be passive, not moving or making a sound. A drowning victim often cannot yell out for help because he is gasping for air or inhaling water.

Sometimes the supervisor understaffs the pool, making it a virtual guarantee that the lifeguards will be unable to properly surveil the entire body of water. Perhaps there is a party scheduled at a university pool, and instead of the expected 100 attendees, 200 patrons show up. Yet the supervisor still permits all 200 patrons to attend the party and swim, rather than limiting the number or shutting down the party. Or the lifeguards allow rough horseplay – patrons playing “chicken” with each other, or patrons pushing unsuspecting patrons into the deep end of the pool when that person cannot swim.

Mr. Grenier has handled many drowning and near-drowning cases in various areas around the country. He has collected millions in damages for his clients, involving both deaths and serious injuries. Several of his cases have involved multimillion dollar recoveries.

In 2014, one of Mr. Grenier’s cases became a landmark decision in the State of Maryland, where the Maryland Court of Appeals held that, contrary to the common law, a pool owner or operator can be held liable for injuries to a young child based upon the owner/operator’s violation of statutory or regulatory duties owed to that particular class of victim, even though the child may have been a trespasser at common law.

There is nothing that can replace a loved one lost to drowning as the result of negligence by a pool owner or operator, but GLG can make sure that the legal damages suffered as the result of that negligence – whether it be lost earnings, therapy needs, medical expenses, funeral expenses, and the like – are pursued thoroughly and tenaciously. For a surviving victim who may need extensive future care and treatment, as well as money for the lost ability to earn a living, GLG will zealously pursue all avenues of monetary recovery on your behalf.