Drowning is a form of asphyxia. It is caused by the aspiration of fluid into an airway, usually caused when the nose and mouth are submerged in water for a sufficient period of time. Initially, when someone falls into the water, he or she will sink due to the force of the fall and gravity. The victim may rise to the surface afterward because of the body’s natural buoyance. However, he or she may inhale water. While the person can hold his or her breath for varying periods, CO2 will rise and stimulate the respiratory system so that he or she inhales again. This in turn produces coughing, pushes air out of the lungs, and disturbs the rhythm of breathing. The drowning victim may sink again.

Consciousness is usually lost within a three-minute period. Meanwhile, the brain is losing oxygen, resulting in cerebral hypoxia. The hypoxia and resulting damaged brain tissue will eventually be irreversible, leading to death. More than 3,000 people die every year in the United States due to drowning. Most of these are children under the age of 14. In some cases, an accident victim drowns but survives and suffers from serious brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, neck damage, or nerve damage.

Brain damage from drowning can happen very quickly, often in a matter of minutes. A child who is drowning is in serious danger of permanent injury from just five minutes of drowning. The resulting medical expenses for injuries may be incurred over a lifetime. In addition, the child or adult victim may not be able to work to support him or herself and may need full-time care and household services.  

Liability for Drowning

There are federal and state laws that impose requirements on any person or entity that operates a pool open to others. When someone drowns in that type of pool and dies, his or her family may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. If a federal or state safety regulation is violated, resulting in serious injuries or a person’s death, it may be possible to sue under a theory of negligence per se.

Some of the most common drowning accident cases involve unguarded swimming pools (premises liability cases) and boat accidents. Negligence, such as a failure to fence a swimming pool or provide adequate equipment, or lack of swimming experience is what commonly leads to major drowning incidents at swimming pools. Small children are very curious, and this can lead to exploration that results in entering a swimming pool.

There are occasions when a property owner also may be liable for an adult drowning in a swimming pool or hot tub. For example, when drains do not meet reasonable standards in a hot tub, the suction can pose a risk to anyone in the water. An adult guest in a hot tub can get his or her long hair caught in the drain and can be held underwater. In that case, the property owner may be held responsible for failing to warn the adult guest of a dangerous condition. Also, the hot tub manufacturer may be responsible under a theory of manufacturing or design defects.