Swimming and drowning accidents are those that occur while swimming in a private or public pool, or some other body of water. According to the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), over 3,500 people drown each year. Approximately one-fifth of these deaths are children aged fourteen or younger.
Additionally, the CDC states that drowning is the number one cause of unintentional death for children between the ages of one and four years old. The CDC estimates that for every child in the United States that drowns, five other children receive E.R. care for injuries suffered in a swimming pool.
Drowning accidents occur when a person is submerged underwater, and becomes unable to resurface or recover for air. This generally results in serious injury, or even death. In technical terms, drowning can be defined as respiratory injury from being in a liquid. However, it typically implies a fatal outcome.
How Do Swimming and Drowning Accidents Happen?
Various activities can result in swimming and/or drowning accidents. Some of the most common examples and potential injuries include, but may not be limited to:
- Swimming pool activities, such as sustaining an injury on the diving board;
- Boating and related activities, such as water skiing;
- Water parks;
- Extreme sport activities;
- Slip and fall accidents;
- Broken limbs;
- Infections; and/or
- Various other recreational functions.
Any of these examples may be due to pool defects, and/or the pool owner’s property. This is why it is important that pool owners maintain and supervise any use of their pool, in order to ensure that those invited to their property are not injured.
However, there are examples of swimming pool accidents that are not necessarily under the control of the pool’s owner. Some examples of swimmers can being contributorily negligent include:
- Subpar swimming skills, especially in the deep-end of the pool;
- Lack of supervision;
- Alcohol use; and/or
- Seizure disorders.
Who Can You Hold Liable for a Swimming or Drowning Accident?
Swimming pool owners and/or operators have a duty to use reasonable care. Failing to exercise reasonable care can lead to injuries resulting from negligence. In order to prove that a pool owner or operator was negligent in operating their pool, which resulted in injury, the plaintiff must demonstrate the following:
- The pool owner/operator owed a duty of care;
- The owner/operator committed a breach of duty;
- An injury was suffered as a result of the breach, and
- The injury was a proximate cause of the breach.
Simply put, if you were invited or paid to use the owner’s pool, they owed you a duty of care. If you were following the rules of the pool and your injury was due to the pool owner’s lack of care, they breached that duty of care and could be held liable for a swimming or drowning accident. An example of being injured due to negligence would be if the ladder out of the deep end of the pool was broken, and not safe to use. However, you were unaware and the pool owner or operator failed to warn you. It is very likely that the pool owner is negligent in the eyes of the law.
Depending on the specifics of each individual circumstance, various parties could be held liable for a drowning incident. An example of this would be a homeowner being held liable for incidents involving a child drowning in their pool. Water parks may be held liable for drowning incidents stemming from the negligence of a park worker.
Product liability is commonly a factor in drowning cases. An example of this would be an above-ground swimming pool constructed in a way that is defective. This leads to a drowning incident. Warning label defects on certain water-related equipment, such as diving gear or water skis, is another common cause of liability for drowning.
What Damages are Available for a Swimming or Drowning Accident?
Swimming and drowning incidents generally result in similar damages awards as personal injury lawsuits. Wrongful death is generally a major issue with the damages award going to the plaintiff’s estate and survivors. This is intended to compensate for various costs associated with the loss.
A damages award is intended to reimburse the plaintiff for the following costs associated with their injury:
- Medical bills;
- Prescription costs;
- Physical therapy bills;
- Lost wages; and/or
- Funeral costs when wrongful death is involved.
The above are simply examples of what a damages award is intended to cover. Remedies and specific damages will vary based on each individual lawsuit, as well as the laws of each specific state.
Are There any Unique Swimming/Drowning Laws in D.C.?
Swimming and drowning incidents are treated as personal injury cases in D.C. As such, all personal injury laws apply. Additionally, there is a statute of limitations of three years. This means that you must make your claim within three years of the incident, or else you forfeit your right to take legal action.
D.C. adheres to what’s known as a contributory fault rule. What this means is that if the plaintiff contributed to their injury in any sort of way, they cannot recover any damages at all.
What Evidence Is Needed to Prove a Swimming or Drowning Case in D.C.?
To prove a swimming or drowning case in D.C,. the plaintiff must prove that they were not at all contributory to their injuries. They must also prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care, which was then breached. Some examples of evidence that will likely be needed include, but may not be limited to:
- Video and/or photographic evidence of the incident;
- Video and/or photographic evidence of the resulting injuries;
- Medical records;
- Doctor’s notes; and
- Copies of any communication between the parties once the incident occurred.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Swimming or Drowning Case?
You should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer if you have been affected by a swimming injury or drowning incident. An experienced attorney can provide you with legal assistance and guidance to help you navigate the legal process, including filing a lawsuit.
If you are in the D.C. area, you should contact a local D.C. lawyer that specializes in personal injury to represent you.