With summer in full bloom and the lifting of many restrictions due to the vaccines, many Massachusetts residents took to the water for boating, fishing, and swimming. Unfortunately, and for whatever reason, our state has seen an increase in the number of drownings among children and adults. In May 2021 alone, there were 18 reported drownings.
Drowning is the number two cause of unintentional death in the U.S. for children from age 0 to 14 behind motor vehicle accidents, and was the number one cause in 2014. In 2017, it was the number three cause of death among children aged 1 to 14 in Massachusetts.
Drownings among infants under the age of 1 usually occur in toilets, bathtubs, buckets, and wading pools. Infants and toddlers from age 1 to 4 drown mainly in backyard pools. Adults are not immune and drown in swimming pools, lakes, and the ocean. As for adult drownings, the Injury Prevention and Control Program reports that 25% to 50% are alcohol-related.
Supervision is Key
If you have young children or any child who does not know how to swim, you must constantly monitor their presence if there is a pool at your house, other private residence, public pool, or they are taking a bath. So many times, grieving parents tell the tragic story that they only took their eye off their toddler for a second to take a phone call or visit the restroom before finding him or her floating facedown in an outdoor pool or bathtub.
For young children, you cannot rely on their calling for help. If they fall in a pool, it only takes a few seconds before they panic and disappear below the water surface without having said a word. Many times, there is no splashing or crying for help. Many drownings occur in the presence of other children who either have no clue that the child is struggling or drowning, or are incapable of saving the child.
In a tragic incident in Wrentham in June, a 1-year old drowned in an above-ground backyard pool at a family gathering. The family reported that they were unable to locate the child for 10-minutes before making the tragic discovery. A spokesperson for the American Red Cross commented that most children who drown were not intended to be in the water and had been gone or out of a parent’s or other adult’s sight for less than 5-minutes before being discovered.
Good Samaritans or those who dive in a body of water to save someone sometimes find themselves unable to assist the drowning person and drown themselves due to a lack of swimming skills, a strong undercurrent, fatigue, or find themselves in the grasp of a panicked victim who pulls them under.
Fence Your Pool
Many states require private homeowners with swimming pools to have a gate or fence around the pool to keep children out. Inexplicably, Massachusetts is not one of them though you are generally required to put up a fence around your backyard. Pool installers and safety advocates warn homeowners about not fencing in any kind of pool, regardless of whether it is in-ground or above ground. A four-sided fence is highly recommended that totally separates the house and yard from the pool area.
If you are at a motel or hotel with a pool, they will not have lifeguards on duty and there should be a fence and gate. If not, you have to be vigilant about your children and their whereabouts, and to not take your eye off them while they are in the pool.
Water Safety in General
At the earliest opportunity, have your child take swimming lessons. You can find lessons at a Y or public pool. If you have your own pool, consider calling the Y or public park and recreation to ask for someone who can give your child private lessons.
If you own a pool, have lifesaving equipment such as inner tubes and poles that you can use to have the victim grab if they are old enough. If you see someone drowning or having difficulty at a lake or at the shore, alert a lifeguard. If none are around, call or ask someone to call 911 if you plan a rescue, but always take a floatation device with you that the person can grasp and hold onto instead of yourself. It will also make it easier for you and the victim to be brought back to shore or to wait for help if the distance is too great, the current too strong, or you are too fatigued.
Other tips to prevent drowning in any setting include:
- Empty the bathtub and wading pool immediately after use
- Keep the toilet lid closed at all times
- Have your child wear a lifejacket around pools and any natural body of water
- A noodle, inner tube, or even water wings are no substitute for a lifejacket
- Learn basic CPR
- Have your child take swim lessons as early as 2 or 3 years of age
- If at a party or gathering, have an adult watch the pool at all times
- Even if you are at a pool or body of water with lifeguards, do not assume that they will constantly monitor your child since they have other duties as well or may be preoccupied with some other incident
- Never swim alone in a lake or ocean
- Never drink before swimming
- Be aware of bodies of water with strong currents
- Keep a cellphone nearby
- Never swim in thunderstorm or if you see lightening
At Burns and Jain, we know too well the tragedy of a loved one who drowned in someone else’s pool, at the public pool, or at a hotel or motel pool. While state law does not mandate that a private pool be fenced, the failure to install one while knowing that neighborhood children have easy access to the pool could impose civil liability on the homeowner. A municipality that operates a public pool whose lifeguards were not on duty or who were otherwise neglecting their responsibilities could also be found liable.
Boatowners in Massachusetts are required to provide lifejackets or PFD for children under the age of 12 when the vessel is underway. If your child fell in and drowned because no PFD was provided by the boatowner, then they could be held civilly liable.
Damages in Drowning Claims
If your child or loved one drowned in a pool or other body of water where certain lifesaving requirements or prevention measures were not met, then you may have a wrongful death claim. In Massachusetts, death claims are brought by the executor of the decedent’s estate. A court will appoint an executor, usually the parent if a child is the decedent, if there is no will.
A wrongful death attorney is needed in such cases to not only prove liability, which is often contested, but also to demonstrate and prove damages. Damages in a typical wrongful death claim are:
- Medical expenses incurred before decedent succumbed to injuries
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Loss of income to dependents (spouse, children, parents)
- Pain and suffering if decedent visibly suffered before death
- Loss of the decedent’s love, counsel, and guidance
- Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent, reckless, and exhibited a wanton indifference to life or safety
Retain the Law Office of Burns and Jain
Drowning accidents often take the lives of the very young and vulnerable. To ensure that all possible factors leading to the accident are investigated, and all potential parties held accountable, retain a wrongful death attorney from Burns and Jain. Our office has obtained millions of dollars in compensation for our injured clients and their families over the years. Call us at (617) 227-7423 for an in-depth consultation about your injury accident or death claim.