Were You or a Loved One Involved in a Drowning Accident?

Drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. Every day, approximately 11 people in the U.S. die from unintentional drownings in pools, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, culverts, hot tubs, or other bodies of water, and hundreds of others die from drowning in boating-related accidents each year.

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Drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. Every day, approximately 11 people in the U.S. die from unintentional drownings in pools, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, culverts, hot tubs, or other bodies of water, and hundreds of others die from drowning in boating-related accidents each year.

Drowning accidents and submersion injuries are highly prevalent causes of death and permanent disability among adults and children in the United States. They are also highly preventable events, and the family members of those severely injured or killed in drowning accidents may have the right to seek legal recourse against the party responsible for their loved one’s injuries or death. These types of cases can be complicated. There are often multiple persons or entities who can be held liable for a drowning accident, which is why it is always a good idea to consult an attorney with experience handling drowning lawsuits right away. The most common drowning accident lawsuits involve negligence, premises liability and wrongful death claims, and this type of case typically comes about when victims or their loved ones sue the at-fault person, party or parties for damages, such as medical expenses, funeral costs, pain and suffering, and lost income. To find out if you qualify for compensation following a drowning accident allegedly caused by another person’s recklessness, a negligent property owner, or an inattentive supervisor, contact our consumer advocates at Consumer Justice Foundation today. 

Drowning Accidents in the U.S.

Drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. Every day, approximately 11 people in the U.S. die from unintentional drownings in pools, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, culverts, hot tubs, or other bodies of water, and hundreds of others die from drowning in boating-related accidents each year. 

Near-Drowning Accident Injuries

Not all drowning accidents result in death. Unfortunately, even the nonfatal injuries typically associated with near-drowning incidents can be life-changing. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for every child who dies from drowning in the U.S., five others require emergency medical care for nonfatal submersion injuries, occurring when a person is submerged underwater and either aspirates water or experiences laryngospasm. When the brain is deprived of oxygen for any period of time, the consequences can be devastating, and many near-drowning victims who survive are left with lifelong disabilities. The following are some nonfatal drowning injuries that may occur in victims of near-drowning accidents:

  • Brain damage
  • Learning disabilities
  • Permanent vegetative state
  • Memory problems
  • Seizures
  • Loss of basic functioning
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Paralysis

Who is at Risk for a Drowning Accident?

Drowning accidents can happen to anyone at any time and in any amount of water. Young children can suffocate in as little as two inches of water, which makes them especially vulnerable to drowning accidents. Even adults and experienced swimmers can suffer a seizure or another injury while swimming or succumb to fatigue and drown in a lake, pool or hot tub. The CDC lists the following as the most common factors that affect drowning risk:

  • Lack of swimming ability
  • Lack of close supervision
  • Lack of safety barriers (pool fencing)
  • Failure to wear life jackets
  • Alcohol use
  • Seizure disorders
  • Location (a pool vs open water)

Child Drownings

Young children are especially vulnerable to drowning accidents, especially when they are not properly supervised around swimming pools and other bodies of water. In the U.S., fatal drowning is the second-leading cause of death among children aged one to 14, after motor vehicle crashes. In fact, one in five drowning deaths in the U.S. involve children 14 years of age and younger. Children between the ages of one and four have the highest drowning rates and most of these drowning deaths occur in home swimming pools.

Children with Special Needs

Child drowning accidents can occur quickly and quietly anywhere there is water, even in a bathtub or even in the presence of lifeguards or other adults acting in a supervisory capacity. Drowning is of particular concern for children with special needs who may require extra attention around bodies of water, specifically those with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). According to the National Autism Association (NAA), the risk of death by drowning is twice as high for children with ASDs than those in the general population. The NAA also reports that 91% of all wandering-related deaths among children with ASDs are due to accidental drownings. 

Adult Drownings

People of different ages tend to drown in different locations. We noted above that most drownings involving children occur in home swimming pools. For adults, the risk of drowning is highest in natural water settings, such as a lake, ocean or river. The CDC reports that the risk of a drowning accident occurring in open water increases with age. In fact, more than half of all fatal and nonfatal drownings involving victims 15 years of age and older occur in lakes, oceans, rivers and other natural water settings. 

Elderly Drownings

Research shows that the risk of unintentional drowning increases with age, which puts elderly individuals at the top of the list for those at-risk for drowning accidents. The characteristics of drowning accidents also differ widely by age group. Older individuals are more likely to drown while swimming, boating or after falling into water. Therefore, to reduce the risk of elderly drownings, community centers, public pools and other recreational water facilities with elderly patrons are encouraged to provide experienced lifeguards and have adequate drowning prevention protocols in place. 

There are also certain pre-existing medical conditions that can play a role in a person’s drowning risk, such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. According to one study of fatal, unintentional drownings in older people, 69% of the 506 older people who drowned had a pre-existing medical condition. This is of particular concern for elderly individuals at assisted living facilities, many of whom are diagnosed with one or more pre-existing conditions.

Where do Drowning Accidents Occur?

Drownings in Pools

Some of the most common types of drowning accidents in the U.S. are drownings in pools. Swimming is a popular activity for people of all ages to enjoy during the warm weather months, and swimming in a pool tends to be viewed as a safer alternative to swimming in a pond or lake, especially if it is a private backyard pool or a community pool with a lifeguard on duty. However, this is not necessarily the case. Drownings at residential swimming pools and public pools account for a large number of fatalities and injuries every year, most commonly among young children. 

Private Pools

Backyard pools and hot tubs can be a source of fun and entertainment for adults and children alike, but they can also pose a serious risk of injury or fatality if the proper pool safety protocols are not followed. Most people assume that swimming in a private pool in their own backyard or a neighbor’s backyard is as safe as swimming gets. Because of this inaccurate assumption, people tend to let their guard down when supervising children and others in and around private pools, which increases the risk of a tragic accident occurring. As more and more people install private pools on their property to enjoy with friends and family, the swimming pool drowning rate in the U.S. continues to rise.

Public Pools and Community Centers

Swimming has so much more to offer than simply pleasure or enjoyment. It can also improve a person’s physical fitness and enrich their social life, among other important benefits. These are just some of the reasons so many people flock to their community center or local public pool with their families. For many of these people, the most important detail that factors into their decision to visit a public pool is whether or not there is a lifeguard on duty, especially if they have young children with them. Unfortunately, even when there is a lifeguard on duty, there are still plenty of potential hazards at public pools and community centers that can pose a drowning risk, such as:

  • Defective or absent safety equipment
  • Broken or improperly maintained diving boards
  • Improperly covered pool drains
  • Improper filtration or disinfection
  • Failure to warn about hidden dangers
  • Lack of adequate supervision
  • Overhead electrical wires
  • Exposed wiring
  • Faulty electrical equipment
  • Inaccurate pool depth markings
  • Failure to meet minimum safety standards

It is important to note that while having a lifeguard on duty may make a public pool seem safer, it does not guarantee the safety of children and other pool patrons. All too often, public pools and community centers fill their lifeguard positions with high school or college kids who have limited training in water safety, first aid or CPR. If a drowning occurs at a public pool or community center and it is established that the lifeguard on duty failed to act in a reasonable manner to prevent the drowning from occurring, both the lifeguard and the property owner may be liable for damages. 

Drownings in Lakes

There has been a big push to reduce the risk of swimming pool drownings across the U.S. in recent years, but swimming pools are not the only water settings that pose a drowning risk. According to the CDC, more than half of fatal drownings and nonfatal submersion incidents involving people 15 years of age and older occur in lakes, ponds, rivers, reservoirs and other natural or manmade water environments. According to a 2018 report from Safe Kids Worldwide and Nationwide’s Make Safe Happen program, nearly 40% of open water drownings among children occur in lakes, 24% occur in rivers, and 20% occur in ponds, with less than 4% occurring in the ocean. 

Drownings in Culverts

If you remember one thing about drowning accidents, it should be that they can happen in any amount of water. This includes streams, creeks and even drainage culverts, which are tunnels designed to carry a stream or open drain under a road, railroad or trail from one side to the other. Culverts in particular pose a drowning hazard, especially during heavy rains when there may be localized flooding and fast-moving waters. The risk is particularly high for children and adolescents who can easily be swept away in a flooded culvert and drown. If a drowning accident occurs as a result of inadequate drainage or some other problem with a culvert that should have been addressed by the property owner or the city or local government entity responsible for maintaining the structure, a lawsuit may be filed to hold the responsible party accountable for the consequences of the accident. 

Waterslide and Waterpark Drownings

Waterparks, waterslides and wave pools are a favorite tourist destination for families during the warm summer months and estimates put the number of waterparks in the United States at nearly 1,000, with approximately 85 million annual visitors. Unfortunately, these types of excursions are not without risk. That is why waterpark owners are expected to routinely inspect, maintain and repair equipment and rides, as well as employ lifeguards and other staff members whose sole focus is visitor safety. Even so, accidental drownings occur at waterparks nationwide at an alarming rate. The following are some common causes of drowning accidents at waterparks, waterslides and wave pools:

  • Poorly trained or unqualified lifeguards and other staff members
  • Defective or dangerous equipment
  • Lack of warning or instruction
  • Insufficient ride maintenance

Waterpark and waterslide owners and operators have a legal responsibility to keep their property in a reasonably safe condition and provide entrants, guests and patrons with a hazard-free swimming experience. If a drowning occurs at a waterpark as a result of dangerous or faulty equipment or because of some hidden hazard the property owner or operator knew or reasonably should have known about and failed to repair or warn others about, the victim’s loved ones may have a claim against the waterpark owner or operator for premises liability. If a lifeguard or another staff member is on duty when a drowning accident occurs and should have acted to prevent the accident from occurring, that person may also be liable for the victim’s death. 

Watersports Drownings

Recreational watersports like boating and waterskiing are a favorite pastime for couples and families, providing endless entertainment for people of all ages. However, it is important to recognize the fact that watersports activities present a serious and potentially life-threatening risk, especially when proper boating safety protocols are not observed by vessel operators and others onboard the vessel. Even with these risks in mind, there are still hundreds of boating-related fatalities in the U.S. every year, the most common cause of death being drowning. In 2018, there were 633 boating-related deaths reported by vessel owners and operators, and in cases where the cause of death was known, 77% of victims drowned. The following are some of the most common contributing factors in boating accidents and drownings:

  • Operator inattention
  • Operator inexperience
  • Failure to wear a life jacket
  • Falling overboard
  • Excessive speed
  • Alcohol use
  • Machinery failure
  • Improper lookout

Drowning Accident Prevention

Who is Liable for Drowning Accidents?

When a drowning accident occurs, holding the at-fault person or party responsible for the resulting injury or fatality means figuring out who is legally “liable” for the accident. Determining liability for a drowning accident can be complicated, as it depends on where the accident occurred, who was involved, and what factors caused or contributed to the accident. In some cases, multiple people or parties may be liable. Consider the following circumstances:

  • For a drowning in a private pool, the property owner may be liable for damages, especially if he or she failed to comply with the state’s safety requirements for private pools (i.e. fencing in the pool, installing an alarm, etc.)
  • For a drowning at a community pool, waterpark or other public swimming area, the facility owner or operator may be responsible if the accident was caused by some unreasonably hazardous feature or condition of the property that the owner or operator failed to correct or warn patrons about. If a lifeguard was on duty at the time of the accident and failed to act with reasonable care given the situation, the victim or surviving family members may also be able to sue the lifeguard for the resulting injury or fatality.

The following are some examples of the individuals or parties who can be held liable in the event of a drowning accident:

Property Owners

Premises liability is a legal concept that comes into play when someone is injured or killed in an accident that occurs on another person’s property as a result of an unsafe or defective condition that exists on the property. For instance, a pool owner may be liable if equipment like ladders and diving boards are poorly maintained or if the pool has hidden obstructions that the pool owner fails to warn about, and a drowning accident occurs as a result of these hazardous conditions. Property owners owe what is known as a “duty of care” to those who enter their property, known as “entrants,” whether it is with or without an express invitation. Most states recognize three main types of entrants – invitees, licensees, and trespassers – and the duty of care owed to each entrant is dependent on the entrant’s status.

  • Invitees are entrants who are induced by the property owner to enter onto that person’s property via express or implied invitation. For example, patrons of a public swimming pool or swimming area are considered invitees.
  • Licensees are entrants who have been permitted use of another person’s property for his or her own benefit. For example, friends asked over to a neighbor’s house to swim in their backyard pool are considered licensees.
  • Trespassers are those who enter another person’s property without permission or legal right. For example, someone who sneaks into a neighbor’s yard to swim in their pool without the homeowner’s permission is considered a trespasser. In most cases, a drowning accident involving a trespasser will not result in liability on the property owner’s part. An exception is a child trespasser. The law requires property owners to take the proper precautions to keep children away from a pool or other potentially dangerous water feature on their property. This includes installing a fence around a private swimming pool that is high and sturdy enough to prevent unintended access to the pool.

Pool Owners and Operators

Owners and operators of community pools are responsible for maintaining a safe swimming environment free of known hazards that may increase the risk of a drowning accident. Premises liability law states that pool owners, operators or managers may be at fault for drowning accidents that occur as a result of their failure to use or maintain the property in a reasonably safe manner. In other words, if a swimmer drowns at a public pool as a result of some unreasonably hazardous condition or feature of the pool or because of some hidden danger – i.e. a broken diving board, an area of the pool that is not clearly marked as being too shallow for diving, an electrical hazard that causes an electrocution or electrical shock drowning, or even a lack of adequate supervision or lifeguards – the pool owner or operator may be liable.

Lifeguards and Staff

Many public pools, community centers, assisted living facilities, lakes, beaches, waterslides and waterparks have lifeguards on duty to supervise patrons and reduce the risk of injuries or drowning accidents. Unfortunately, not all lifeguards are as vigilant as they should be when on duty. This is especially true for inexperienced lifeguards who lack the training and skill necessary to keep pool patrons safe. When someone is injured or dies in a drowning accident because of a lifeguard’s negligence, the victim or surviving family members can file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit to hold the lifeguard or lifeguards present at the time of the accident responsible for their negligence. Any time a lifeguard’s negligence causes a drowning accident at a community pool, lake, waterpark or other public facility, the lifeguard’s employer and the property owner may also be liable for damages. 

Vessel Owners and Operators (Boating Accidents)

In the event of a drowning accident that occurs aboard a boat, the vessel owner or operator may be responsible for the victim’s injuries or death. For example, if the victim falls overboard during a boating excursion and the vessel owner failed to provide suitable life jackets for the boat occupants, or if the operator was driving the boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the boat owner and/or operator may be liable for the accident.

Babysitters, Nannies or Childcare Providers

All too often, child drownings occur because the person entrusted with the temporary care of the child, be that person a babysitter, nanny, childcare provider, neighbor, friend or family member, is distracted and takes his or her eyes off the child in or around a body of water. Child drownings can occur in the blink of an eye and in terms of accidents that take place around water, inadequate supervision can have fatal consequences. Individuals tasked with supervising a child may be liable for drowning accidents that occur at swimming pools, lakes, beaches, ponds or even in the bathtub.

Pursuing Compensation for a Drowning Accident

You now know that children, children with special needs, adolescents, teens, adults and elderly individuals can all drown in very short periods of time and that even nonfatal near-drowning accidents can result in lifelong disability for victims. To pursue compensation for losses resulting from a drowning or near-drowning, victims or surviving family members can bring a lawsuit against the person or parties found at fault in the accident.

How a Drowning Accident Lawsuit Can Help

The purpose of a drowning accident lawsuit is to hold the person or party whose actions, or lack of action, caused or contributed to the accident legally liable for the resulting injuries or fatality. Depending on the specifics of the case, plaintiffs in drowning accident lawsuits may be able to recover financial compensation to help them cover the cost of:

  •       Medical bills
  •       Pain and suffering
  •       Lost wages
  •       Loss of earning capacity
  •       Emotional trauma
  •       Loss of consortium

If the victim dies in the accident, the surviving family members may also be entitled to compensation for funeral or burial expenses and lost wages the victim would have earned as income, as well as the loss of companionship and loss of support the surviving family members have suffered as a result of the victim’s unexpected death.

Who Can Sue for Damages?

Individuals who sustain serious injuries in near-drowning accidents caused by the negligence or recklessness of another person or party may be able to recover compensation for the harm they have suffered by filing a personal injury lawsuit against that person or party. In the event of a fatal drowning accident, the following individuals may have the right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent party or entity:

  •       A surviving spouse,
  •       A domestic partner,
  •       The victim’s children,
  •       The victim’s grandchildren, if his or her children are deceased,
  •       Any other person who may be entitled to the victim’s property, or
  •       Anyone with power of attorney over the victim, if the victim survives but is in a permanent vegetative state.

What are the Legal Claims for a Drowning Accident?

There are several types of legal claims victims or their loved ones can pursue in the aftermath of a drowning accident. Figuring out which type of claim is right for your situation depends on the specific facts of the case, which is why we always recommend consulting a knowledgeable attorney when considering filing a drowning accident lawsuit. An attorney with experience handling drowning accident claims can help you navigate the complicated process of filing a claim and pursuing compensation from the at-fault person or party, while ensuring that you understand your legal rights throughout.


Negligence is a legal principle under which a person who acts in a reckless or careless way and causes harm to another person can be held legally responsible for the harm the injured person has suffered. The basis of a basic negligence claim is the presumed duty of care the defendant owed the plaintiff. In order to successfully recover compensation in a drowning accident lawsuit based on negligence, the plaintiff must prove the following four points in court:

  •       The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care under the circumstances,
  •       The defendant breached that duty by acting or failing to act in a certain way,
  •       The defendant’s actions (or inaction) caused the victim’s injuries, and
  •       The plaintiff suffered harm as a result of the defendant’s actions.

Some examples of situations that could result in a negligence claim following a drowning accident would be if a lifeguard at a community pool was distracted while on duty, if a swimmer acting recklessly at a public beach held another swimmer underwater, or if a daycare provider left a young child unsupervised in a kiddie pool.

Premises Liability

Premises liability is a specific type of negligence claim that may apply to drowning accidents that occur on someone else’s property. If a drowning accident occurs as a result of a hazardous or defective condition on another person’s property, whether or not the person who owns or manages the property was present at the time of the accident, a premises liability claim may apply. To establish premises liability in a drowning accident case, the plaintiff must prove the following points:

  •       The defendant owned, occupied or controlled the property where the accident occurred,
  •       The defendant was negligent in his or her use or maintenance of the property and failed to warn about potentially dangerous conditions,
  •       The plaintiff suffered injuries, and
  •       The defendant’s negligence was a significant factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.

Some examples of situations that could result in a premises liability claim in a drowning accident case would be if the safety equipment at a public swimming area (i.e. a public pool, lake, waterpark, hot tub or beach) is missing or poorly maintained or if a hazardous condition at a waterpark (i.e. a broken stairway, a slippery pool deck that was not properly cleaned, or a defect in the design or construction of a waterslide) causes a child to fall into the water and drown.  

Wrongful Death

In the event of a drowning accident that results in the victim’s death, the victim’s family members may hold the negligent person or party liable for damages by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. The purpose of a wrongful death claim is to compensate surviving family members for losses resulting from the victim’s death, such as funeral and burial costs, loss of income, and loss of consortium for a surviving spouse or domestic partner. In order to recover damages in a wrongful death claim, the family would need to prove the following points:

  •       The defendant owed the victim a duty of care,
  •       The defendant breached that duty of care by acting in a negligent, careless or reckless manner,
  •       The defendant’s negligence, carelessness, or recklessness caused or contributed to the victim’s death, and
  •       The victim’s family members have suffered quantifiable damages as a result of the victim’s death.

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Finding the Right Drowning Accident Attorney

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The key to recovering the compensation you deserve for the losses you and your loved ones have incurred in the aftermath of a drowning accident that took place at a pool, lake, waterpark, beach or community center is finding the right drowning accident attorney to represent you. Not all attorneys have experience handling negligence claims, premises liability claims or wrongful death claims, and the potential success of your case is dependent on the expertise of your legal representation. If you have lost a loved one in a fatal drowning accident, or if your family member suffered permanent, debilitating injuries in a near-drowning, you are not alone. Our consumer advocates at Consumer Justice Foundation believe that all drowning accident victims and their loved ones have the right to hold the person or entity whose negligence or misconduct caused the accident responsible for the harm they have suffered. Contact CJF today to find out if you are eligible to file a claim. 

By submitting this form, you confirm that you have read and agreed to Select Justice, LLC, LeadClient, Inc., or a law firm may contact you about their services at your above phone number even if it is on a National or State Do Not Call List. Calls / texts may employ automated dialing technology and prerecorded / artificial voice messages and email. I understand my consent is not a condition of any purchase.

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