Swimming and enjoying the water is one of the most popular ways to spend a summer day. Whether it is at a personal swimming pool or at one of the many community pools in the D.C. area, or even at one of the many lakes, rivers, or beaches in the area, going for a swim or just lounging around is a great way to relax, especially during the summer.
However, wherever there is water, there is the chance of drowning. Human beings can drown in only a couple inches of liquid if all of the circumstances are right. Worse, it can happen very quickly, and without all of the thrashing and splashing that people have come to expect from seeing someone drown in the movies. As a result, people in the Washington, D.C. area drown unfortunately often. Tragically, many of these drowning deaths are completely preventable, and are often the result of someone's negligence, whether it was a lifeguard's inattentiveness or a swimming pool owner's unwillingness to keep the pool's gates locked.
If someone that you love has been the victim of a drowning, filing a personal injury lawsuit for wrongful death can be the best way to ensure everyone gets the compensation they need and hold the wrongful party accountable for their actions. This way, no one else has to go through the loss you have gone through.
How Drowning Happens
There are lots of popular misconceptions surrounding how a drowning happens. Many people think that you drown if you inhale enough water into your lungs and that, once your lungs fill up to the brim with water, you can no longer breathe and this causes you to drown.
In reality, though, only a little water has to get into your lungs for you to start drowning. People start to drown as soon as the liquid comes into contact with their airway: Once a small amount of water gets into your trachea – one of the last sections in the tube connecting your nose and mouth to your lungs – a muscular spasm constricts to seal the airway. This constriction prevents more water from getting into your lungs after the first dosage. However, it also prevents air from getting in, as well. Without air reaching your lungs, you slowly lose consciousness while the lack of oxygen in your system leads to death.
Importantly, the spasm that constricts your airway also prevents air from leaving your mouth, making it impossible to shout or call for help. This is why the loud, flailing drownings that are prevalent in movies almost never happen. Instead, the instinctive response to drowning is for the victim to sink underwater without a sound and with almost no movement, at all. As a result of this misconception, the untrained eye is often unable to recognize someone who is in the middle of drowning: A drowning victim typically looks more like someone who is trying to float, but failing.
More people drown in accidents every day than many would expect. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there was an average of 3,536 deadly drownings every year in the United States from 2005 through 2014. An additional 332 people died each year in incidents that involved boats, as well. This means that, on average, ten people have drowned every day for the past decade, making drowning the fifth-leading cause of unintentional death in the United States. However, worldwide, drowning is the third-leading cause of accidental death. On average, drowning accounts for 7% of all accidental deaths every year.
Drowning accidents and deaths, though, do not occur at the same rate throughout the year or throughout the country. Accidents peak during the summer months and fall to a low during the winter, following the temperature trends. This is because many of the unintentional drownings that happen are in swimming pools and other recreational areas like ponds and lakes that are rarely visited during the winter months of the cold days of spring and the fall. Similarly, the warmer parts of the country, like California or Florida, have more than their fair share of drowning victims while cold states like Alaska and Maine have relatively fewer. However, there are always exceptions to this trend, and drownings can happen anywhere, and at any time throughout the year.
Unfortunately, many of the people who die from drowning are young children. In 2015, unintentional drowning was the most common cause of a fatality for children between the ages of one and four, and the second most common cause of a fatality for kids between one and nine, behind only car accidents. The CDC's numbers estimate that one out of every five drowning victims is a child under the age of fourteen.
Even those who do not drown, though, can still suffer severe personal injuries from the experience. Because drownings happen when a muscle spasm closes off the airway, none of the muscles in a drowning victim's body gets the oxygen they need. This is especially important for the brain, which needs a constant supply of oxygen in order to function properly. Even a short interruption to this supply of oxygen can cause long-term brain damage that can be life-altering for both the victim as well as his or her family.
In fact, according to the CDC, five times as many children are hurt from drowning incidents than those who die. Just because they survive the incident, though, does not mean they escaped the situation unscathed or with merely minor injuries. Out of all drowning victims who survive and need treatment in emergency rooms, more than half of them require hospitalization. For the sake of comparison, only about six percent of all unintentional injuries require further inpatient treatment, highlighting the seriousness of the injuries sustained by all drowning victims.
Drowning in Personal Swimming Pools
One of the most common sites for a drowning injury is a personal swimming pool.
Many people in the Washington, D.C. area own and maintain their own personal swimming pools. While these pools see only a small fraction of the use that community pools see, a disproportionately high number of drownings happen in them because of the lack of lifeguards and, ironically, the low number of people who use the pool. Lifeguards are trained to spot a drowning person, pull them from the water quickly, and give them life-saving emergency treatment that can prevent a drowning from turning fatal and minimize its long-term effects. Without them, people who use their own swimming pools are doing so without a huge protective net.
Additionally, people who own their own swimming pool often use it with far fewer others around them. Even if they are not trained to recognize and respond to someone drowning, the mere presence of someone else in the area can prevent someone from drowning if they realize that something is wrong and act quickly enough to do something. Because only a couple of different people use personal swimming pools, however, this is not always a possibility.
Because of the dangers surrounding personal swimming pools, their owners can face premises liability if someone else gets hurt in their pool. This means that you could have a legal right to compensation if you or someone you love has been the victim of a drowning in someone else's swimming pool.
The legal rights that you have, however, do depend on your relationship with the owner of the swimming pool, or with the person or party in charge of the pool at the time of your injuries. This relationship largely depends on whether you were invited to be at the swimming pool when you were hurt, though it also depends on if the pool owner was benefitting from your presence there. If either of these is the case, the person in charge of the pool has to take more steps to ensure your safety.
Drowning in Community Swimming Pools
In addition to the thousands of personal swimming pools in the D.C. area, there are also a handful of community and public swimming pools that are open for lots of people to enjoy.
While these pools have lifeguards and lots of other people who could, conceivably, help you if you start to drown, the reality is that swimmers count on the lifeguards to keep everyone safe, while the lifeguards have a difficult time watching everyone that is in the water. As a result, the lifeguards on duty need to be vigilant to ensure everyone stays safe.
If you or someone you love is the victim of a drowning incident in a public or community swimming pool, though, and the lifeguards on duty were being negligent, you may have legal rights that you can enforce to get the compensation that you deserve.
Children and Swimming Pools
Children are some of the most common victims in drowning incidents. This is not only because they are weaker swimmers than adults: They are also less able to appreciate the dangers of what they do. As a result, they take more risks than adults do and act far more recklessly than those who are older than they are. This is largely what makes children, children. Unfortunately, this can be especially problematic when it comes to swimming pools – children often see them only as places where they can have fun, and not as a potential source of a tragedy.
Because of this fact, and because it would be unfair to expect children to act like something other than children, the law in Washington, D.C. puts additional legal responsibilities on swimming pool owners to keep kids safe from what are known as “attractive nuisances,” such as swimming pools.
Under this legal idea, swimming pool owners can be held liable for a child's injuries if:
- The area of the swimming pool was in a place where children were likely to trespass,
- The owner of the pool knows, or should know, of the drowning dangers associated with the swimming pool,
- The victim did not realize the danger because of their youth,
- The benefit of the pool or the cost of making it adequately safe are small compared to the risk of children getting hurt, and
- The pool owner does not take reasonable care to eliminate the danger and protect potentially trespassing children.
This often means that people who have personal swimming pools on their property keep them inside a secured fence. This fence is not left open and typically has to be tall enough to keep young children from jumping over it easily. Depending on the other circumstances surrounding a particular pool, the owners might also have to take other precautions to make reasonably sure that children cannot gain access to the pool without them noticing. If they do not take these reasonable precautions, they could find themselves facing premises liability if the drowning victim was a child, even if the child was trespassing at the time of his or her injury.
Drowning and Swimming Pool Accident Lawyers Gilman & Bedigian
Drowning injuries are rarely minor, and are all too often fatal. To make matters even worse, they often happen to children. Even if they do survive the incident, they are often left with long-term or even permanent disabilities or debilitations that impact their lives and the lives of their families.
In an attempt to make the victims of a drowning accident whole, the law of Washington, D.C. allows victims and their families to file a personal injury or a wrongful death claim to get the compensation they need to make as close to a full recovery as they possibly can. A successful claim, however, often takes a personal injury attorney who understands the legal process and field of the District of Columbia.
This is where the lawyers at the law office of Gilman & Bedigian come in.
By hiring us as your legal representative, we can fight for your rights and interests both in and out of court to ensure you get the care you need. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.