Swimming accidents can lead to severe injury. For example, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that there are 3,960 fatal unintentional drownings each year, including drowning related to boating, which is an average of 11 drowning deaths each day. Further, there were 8,080 nonfatal drownings, which is an average of 22 nonfatal drownings each day. Children are especially vulnerable to drowning accidents. Moreover, these accidents are usually serious. For example, more than 40 percent of drownings treated in an emergency room setting require hospitalization, while 8 percent of all unintentional injuries require that same level of care. The CDC has also reported that injuries related to drowning can cause brain damage and severe long-term disability.
Swimming accident injuries
While swimming accidents may occur in various settings, they often occur in or near a pool. There are an estimated 10 million pools in the United States. Pools may be public or private. While swimming injuries can be mild, many can be life-altering. For every 5 people who need emergency medical treatment for nonfatal drowning injuries, one person dies. Injuries related to drowning accidents include the following:
- Brain injury – When someone is drowning, their brain is deprived of oxygen. The first part of the brain that becomes damaged during oxygen loss is the part that controls memory and thinking.
- Brain damage – In cases of oxygen deprivation in drowning accidents, brain damage occurs after 5 minutes. Victims may suffer from memory loss, seizures, paralysis and may even be in a permanent vegetative state.
- Lung injuries – someone who has been involved in a drowning accident may develop aspiration pneumonia, which is a lung infection that occurs after someone inhales water into their lungs.
- Recreational water illnesses (RWI) – these are more common in freshwater. RWIs include gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections.
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) – ARDS is a severe and often fatal lung condition that happens when fluid fills up someone’s air sacs.
- Hypothermia – Hypothermia happens when the body loses too much heat. Moreover, it does not have to be freezing out to get hypothermia. It can occur even in moderate temperatures.
Accidents related to swimming that do not include drowning may include the following:
- Brain injury from blunt force – someone may suffer a brain injury, such as a concussion to a more severe brain injury if they hit their head in the water. Situations that may occur include someone slipping and hitting their head near a pool or inside of the pool, or in a rocky lake.
- Broken bones – these may also occur from other slip and falls near a swimming pool
- Lacerations – these may occur from a slip and fall in a pool area, or a freshwater setting, such as a pond, lake, or river.
Damages for swimming pool accidents may include compensation for the victim’s:
- Medical expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Reduced earning capacity and lost wages
- Loss of consortium (in Wrongful Death cases)
Liability in swimming pool accidents
Accidents that occur in swimming pools, whether personal or commercial, may lead to a legal claim based on pool premise liability. For example, if someone is injured at a pool party, they may be able to hold the property owner liable for damages from the personal injury or wrongful death. Premise liability in Florida means that a property owner is responsible for maintaining the safety of the premises. For example, a water park or gym pool must establish and maintain a safe premise for those who visit.
If someone does not have any warning about certain dangers in a swimming pool, and in some cases, if the pool is not properly supervised, the property owner may be considered negligent. These cases will fall under premises liability. For example, a lack of signage in sections of a pool may lead to a possible drowning accident. Safety equipment must also be near a pool and if not, a swimmer may be in serious danger. Further, if a pool owner fails to maintain the pool, such as proper gates and fencing, a child may be at significant risk of drowning.
However, the injured person in swimming accidents must prove that the individual or business owner or an employee at the pool is liable. Even if someone has a swimming accident on a property, it does not automatically mean the property owner is liable. Florida premises liability law indicates that a property owner must maintain the property and keep it in reasonable condition that is free of safety hazards.
In order for an individual or business to be held liable for someone’s injury in a swimming pool, the plaintiff must prove negligence. Negligence relies on the principle that a person or entity had a duty of care and failed that duty. Therefore, an individual or business may be liable for a swimming accident on its property if it acted in a negligent, careless or reckless manner and this negligence was the proximate cause of injuries associated with the accident. Liability for the accident will depend on whether the individual, business or employee:
- Knew of the dangerous condition that led to the accident, such as a slippery surface by a pool or a shallow rocky area at the shore of a lake.
- The property owner must maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition and repair or give proper and adequate warning of any unsafe conditions.
- The victim then suffered injuries as a result of this dangerous condition.
Premise liability may be complicated by the status of a visitor
However, premises liability can be complicated based on the status of someone who is injured on the property. Typically, visitors of a property fall into one of the following categories and the duty of property owners may vary.
- Trespassers – Someone not authorized to be on the property. Landowners typically do not owe any duty of care unless the trespasser is a child. However, the property owner still owes a trespasser a limited duty to prevent careless or intentional injury.
- Invitees – Someone who lawfully enters the property even if they were not given explicit permission, such as a resident who goes to a public pool. Property owners owe a duty of care to invitees and must keep the property safe for them and warn them of any dangerous or hazardous conditions that could potentially lead to an injury.
- Licensees – Someone with explicit or implied permission to enter the property for non-business reasons (such as guests at a social gathering by a pool). The property owner must warn of any dangerous or hazardous condition that a licensee will not otherwise notice.
Children and the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine
Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children. Courts consider whether the child was attracted onto the property where there is a nuisance, such as a pool. Because of a child’s age, they are unable to recognize the danger of the nuisance. This is known as the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine. Generally, if a property owner has a fence surrounding their pool, then the property owner is usually protected from liability.
For example, a contractor began excavations of land near a school ground and housing development. Large piles of loose sand were at the excavation site and concealed a 10-foot-deep pond. A child went to play on the sand pile but then fell and slipped into the drown, where they drowned. The court found that large piles of sand, gravel, or similar materials were an attraction for children.
What if the swimming accident occurred on public property instead of private property?
Suing a local or state government is a different process than suing a business or private individual. The statute of limitations is significantly shorter and it’s extremely important to discuss your case with an attorney as soon as possible.
Regardless of whether a swimming accident occurred on public or private property, the individual must prove negligence occurred. Generally, in Florida, local laws may determine whether a public entity, such as a municipality, may be held liable for an accident that occurred on public property. Additionally, there may be caps on the amount of compensation that may be awarded.
Time limits to file a Personal Injury lawsuit in Florida
The law that limits the timeframe in which you may file a lawsuit against another party is called statute of limitations. Florida statutes dictate that most personal injury lawsuits, including swimming accidents, must be filed within the four-year deadline of when the incident occurred. If you do not file a lawsuit against the individual, or business that may be legally at fault for your injuries, you may forgo the right to sue.