Drowning is one of the most traumatic experiences an individual can ever suffer. Many people have experienced the panicked feeling of not being able to breathe, swallowing water, or struggling to stay afloat. This distress can lead to a small amount of water going into the lungs, seizing the airway, until the victim goes unconscious. Drowning can happen within a few moments, in deep or shallow water, and when an individual is all alone or in a crowded swimming pool. Thousands of people drown in the U.S. every year, yet many of those tragic deaths are preventable.
Drowning Injury and Death
When people are struggling to avoid drowning, they may be splashing above and below water. When breaking the surface, they may not have enough time to take a breath of air before going back under. They may not be able to yell out for help before they go underwater again. While paddling to stay afloat, they may not be able to wave for help.
Unfortunately for many drowning victims, bystanders may not be able to recognize that the individual was actually unable to breathe. Instead, they may look like they are calmly slipping under the water. However, trained lifeguards are supposed to look for and recognize the signs of an instinctive drowning response.
Many people think of drowning as a person's lungs filling up with water so they are no longer able to breathe. However, in most drowning cases, only a small amount of liquid has to enter the lungs before drowning begins. Once a small amount of water enters the lungs, the body's response is to seal off the airway, preventing both air and more liquid from entering the lungs. As a result, the lungs are not getting any air, and the individual soon loses consciousness.
According to one study, in 2013 almost 1.7 million people died worldwide from drowning. Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional death in the world. In the United States, drowning is the second leading cause of death in children 12 and under, second only to motor vehicle accidents.
Between 2005 and 2014, an average of more than 3,800 people died every year in the United States from unintentional drowning. This averages out to almost eleven deaths per day. Twenty percent of these fatal drownings involve children 14 and under.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), even non-fatal drowning accidents can result in serious injury. Over half of all drowning victims treated in the emergency department require hospitalization. Injuries include brain damage from oxygen deprivation and may result in memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning.
Males are 4 times more likely to die from drowning than females. From 2011 to 2013, an average of 390 children ages 0 to 14 died every year in pools and spas. Children ages 1 to 4 have the highest rates of fatal drowning, with most drownings occurring in home swimming pools. Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for children aged 1 to 4. African-American children aged 5 to 19 are 5.5 times more likely to drown in a pool than white children.
Swimming Pool Accidents
Swimming pools are a great way to get away from the summer heat. Children can spend hours splashing away with friends in a swimming pool. Adults often use a swimming pool for exercise or choose to relax with an evening soak in the hot tub. Unfortunately, most childhood drowning accidents occur in swimming pools and spas.
Most drowning deaths occur during the warmest summer months when people with pools are looking to cool off, and seasonal public pools are open for use. However, the states with the highest rates of swimming pool drownings are also the states that have more year-round access to pools, including California, Texas, and Florida.
There are a number of risk factors which increase the chances of drowning. This includes a lack of swimming ability, lack of supervision, and lack of barriers preventing young children from getting access to swimming pools. Home swimming pools are among the most accessible. Even for households without children, neighborhood kids may know about the pool, and sneak in for a quick swim. However, the unfamiliar pool may be too deep for kids to stand, and without supervision, a child can quickly drown.
Proper pool fencing can prevent accidental drowning for younger children. According to the CDC, a pool surrounded on all 4 sides by fencing reduces a child's risk of drowning by more than 80% compared to three-sided fencing with access from the house.
Public Pool Accidents
Public pools are usually run by the local city or municipality, and generally, have regulations in place to minimize drowning and other injuries. This includes one or more lifeguards on duty, separate swimming areas for young children and older swimmers, and making swimming lessons available for inexperienced swimmers. These are all shown to reduce the risk of drowning among young children.
Unfortunately, drownings are still all too common at public swimming pools. Crowded pools may make it difficult for lifeguards to notice a struggling swimmer or to identify the signs of drowning. Horseplay among children may also get out of hand, leading to injuries including drowning. In some cases, a young child may be knocked unconscious by kicking feet or someone jumping into the pool. By the time anyone notices an unconscious child in the pool, they may have already drowned.
Drowning in a Bathtub
Shallow water drowning is a serious concern for infants and toddlers. It only takes a couple of inches of water for a young child to drown. Even a bucket filled with water can be a drowning hazard for a curious toddler who falls in head-first, unable to get their head out of the water. A young child left unattended in the bath can easily slip underwater, breathing in just enough water to cause them to drown.
In most of these cases, close supervision will prevent the risk of drowning. An adult should be close enough to act quickly if something goes wrong. Drowning can happen very quickly, and without warning. Supervising adults should not be distracted by reading a book, watching a movie, or talking on their phone.
Drowning Accidents in the Ocean
Every summer, thousands of Maryland residents flock to the coast. They may take a day trip to the local Maryland beaches, or spend a couple of weeks at a rented house in Ocean City, Delaware, Virginia, or New Jersey. Summertime is a great opportunity for the entire family to enjoy time by the ocean. Unfortunately, it is also a chance for inexperienced swimmers to get swept underwater. Even experienced swimmers may be no match for a strong current.
Most public beaches have lifesavers on duty who are supposed to be trained to watch for struggling swimmers and notice the signs of drowning. According to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, beach attendance in 2015 reached over 370 million. During that year, lifeguards initiated more than 95,000 rescues. According to their statistics, 97 people died in unguarded ocean drownings, while there were only 14 drownings in guarded locations. Most beach drownings involve rip currents or large surf. However, alcohol can also be a factor for adults who die from drowning.
Drowning and Alcohol
When children drown, it can usually be attributed to lack of supervision and lack of swimming experience. When adults die from drowning, often times, alcohol is a contributing factor. Alcohol consumption is common with adults participating in recreational activities near the water. This includes drinking during boating activities, or while on shore near rivers, lakes, or the ocean.
According to a study published in the journal Injury Prevention, “alcohol consumption significantly increases the likelihood of immersions resulting in drowning during aquatic activities.”
Alcohol affects the central nervous system, cognitive processing, and impairs certain physiological responses. Alcohol may lead to increased risk-taking, causing a person to do dangerous things they may not normally try, such as making dangerous jumps, boating at high speeds, or diving into water of unknown depth.
Here on the East Coast, alcohol and recreational water drowning increases during the summer months, when more people take to the water as a way to get together with friends and family and cool off in the summer heat. Other factors, including drinking over the course of the day, sun exposure, and dehydration may increase the effects of alcohol. Underage drinkers who are unfamiliar with how alcohol affects their body are also highly susceptible to accidents around the water that could result in drowning.
Drowning Accidents in a Lake or River
Across much of Maryland, and surrounding states, lakes and rivers offer a chance for young people and adults to recreate. This includes swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, and floating down the river on an innertube. A serene flowing river may look safe and calm; however, the cloudy water can mask dangers underneath and downstream. Wider parts of a river may be shallower, and slower flowing; however, once the river narrows, the water may get deeper and the current can pick up speed.
Floating down a river in a tube or on a kayak can quickly lead to a dangerous situation. Individuals may not know what lies downstream, including dams, large trees, and sharp rocks. These objects can overturn a boat, causing the occupants to go into the water, possibly causing injury. Sharp objects can puncture inflatable tubes or rafts, leaving the occupant without a floatation device. Especially if alcohol is involved, trying to get out of a fast, downstream current can be difficult and dangerous. In some cases, a victim who drowns in a river may not be found until days or weeks later, far from the spot they were last seen.
Boating is a popular recreational activity on the many waterways in and around Maryland. Unfortunately, boating also carries certain risks, including physical injury or death. In 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard counted more than 600 deaths related to recreational boating activities. Of these fatalities, more than 75% involved death by drowning. 85% of those who drowned were not wearing flotation devices. Alcohol was a contributing factor in 17% of boating-related fatalities.
Drowning deaths involving recreational boating can often be prevented. Use of a floatation device keeps individuals afloat and keeps their head above water after they go overboard. Even if an individual is knocked unconscious, a personal floatation device (PFD) will keep them from going under. Avoiding alcohol can also help prevent fatal boating accidents. Another factor that could reduce boating fatalities includes proper boating safety instruction. According to Coast Guard data, more than 70% of boating deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had not received proper boating safety instruction.
Drowning & Swimming Pool Accident Lawyers
Many drowning accidents are caused by the negligence of other individuals. This may include homeowners not fencing off a pool that they know children have access to. It may involve a public pool where the lifeguard was not properly trained or was distracted while on duty. It could also include an individual giving alcohol to an underage teenager, who later drowns in a lake or river.
Holding those responsible for the drowning accountable can help to make sure a similar accident doesn't happen in the future. By filing a lawsuit against the negligent parties, it will send a message to others that they need to take swimming safety seriously, to prevent other families from having to grieve the unnecessary loss of a loved one.
By filing a wrongful death lawsuit the aggrieved family can seek compensation for their loss, and make sure the person responsible has to pay for their negligence. If your loved one has passed away as a result of drowning, the law firm of Gilman & Bedigian may be able to help. Your experienced personal injury attorneys can help you through the difficult process, and advocate on your behalf. Our attorneys have years of experience dealing with drowning accident cases throughout Maryland. Contact us today for a free consultation.