The Anatomy of a Drowning Case
Cases involving persons who die or are seriously injured after drowning in a body of water are amongst the most tragic category of personal injury cases. Many times, people will blame themselves or the swimmer for the drowning. This is a common misconception, as people do not understand how individuals behave around bodies of water and the rules associated with them. While drownings are rarely witnessed, an experienced attorney can often put together how the drowning occurred to determine who is legally responsible for the injury. This service alone can provide much needed closure to family and friends of victims of these tragic injuries or deaths.
Very few personal injury lawyers have ever handled a drowning case. This includes personal injury lawyers in Arizona which has a higher percentage of drowning than most other states due to its warm climate and large number of swimming pools. Attorneys with experience in these matters generally obtain better outcomes for their clients as compared to “general” personal injury attorneys. Mesch Clark Rothschild has handled multiple Arizona drowning cases in its nearly 65 years of existence. If you have been injured or have a contact that has died or been injured in a drowning episode, please call Mesch Clark Rothschild at (520) 624-8886 for a free consultation to learn how we can help.
Ten people die every day from unintentional drowning in the United States, making it the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury/death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 20% of drowning victims are under the age of 14. Nearly 80% are male. Only about 35% of Americans know how to swim, and only 2% to 7% of those persons actually swim well. Drowning is a known risk commonly associated with pools, and the pool is often the most dangerous place on a premises. Despite this, many pool operators do not keep their pool up to code.
In accordance, operators of pools, water parks, and natural swimming holes need to have, and rigidly follow, comprehensive safety rules. These rules exist at state, county and city levels. Additionally, there is a Model Aquatic Health Code. Depending on where the drowning occurred there may be rules that apply to the design of the body of water, the areas around that body, the conditions thereon while in use, requisite safety equipment, daily maintenance, and patrons that create liability. In addition, staff must be properly trained in order to minimize the risk of a drowning incident and injuries resulting from a drowning. Far too often, these rules and training fall below the proper standard and cause damages. “Drowning ligation” arises therefrom.
Examples of breaches that arose in cases Mesch Clark Rothschild has handled include: improper pool barriers; summer camp failure to identify weak or non-swimmers and provide proper floatation devices to those persons; failure to monitor; failure to use safety ropes that identify the transition between the shallow end and deep end of a pool, and also help expert swimmers traverse into that more dangerous deep end; improper training in, or use of, emergency procedures; improperly allowing green or cloudy water to remain such that one cannot see below the surface; and lack of proper safety or emergency equipment.
Most drownings are “wet” drownings in which the swimmer breathes water into their lungs. Thereafter, that swimmer typically goes through the process of “active drowning”. Experts explain as follows. The swimmer is usually at or below eye level at the surface of the water for about 10 to 20 seconds. The head is tilted back to get air. The eyes are either wide open or tightly shut. The mouth is often in an “O” shape from struggling to get air. To an untrained eye, this will look like a swimming behavior, but is in fact an instinctual panic behavior. After about 20 seconds, the swimmer will start to sink and will hold his breath underwater for anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds. Once the swimmer becomes submerged, the drowning process is silent. If rescued during this time, the swimmer usually will be fine. After 90 seconds, a swimmer will black out. At this point, things get dicey. If a swimmer is resuscitated after 90 seconds, there’s a high risk of brain damage. In a “wet drowning” the body will be found at the bottom of the pool and will usually drift to the drain area. In “wet drownings” during resuscitation, a red frothy discharge may come from the mouth. This is not blood, but a by-product from the aspiration of water.
“Dry” drowning is another form of drowning. This scenario – as experts explain – typically involves a person holding his breath, a medical event preceding the drowning event, or an involuntary muscular contraction or spasm of the larynx (muscle and cartilage at the top of the trachea which contains the vocal cords) caused by water droplets hitting the epiglottis (the valve-like cartilage behind the tongue) with force, and preventing air from getting into the trachea (airway or windpipe). While humans attempt to breathe when their CO2 levels get high, here CO2 levels are actually lowered when a swimmer holds his breath for a long time while exhaling underwater, or by going underwater repeatedly. When that happens, the brain’s built-in response to breathe doesn’t activate, despite a lack of oxygen. One often cannot tell when that person becomes unconscious until it is too late. The victim in this scenario typically undergoes “shallow water blackout,” though he sometimes becomes unconscious soon after exiting the pool. During this process, water does not enter the lungs. “Dry” drowning will usually result in the Deadman’s float where the body is found at the top of the pool.
Persons injured in a drowning incident have a right to fair compensation from parties who negligently caused those injuries. The personal injury lawyers at Mesch Clark Rothschild are ready to assist persons in maximizing the compensation they can recover for injuries sustained in a drowning accident.