Tom Griffiths, Ed.D ::::
Synopsis: A well maintained and managed municipal long course “Olympic” pool experienced a traumatic pool death resulting in a law suit. An experienced and mature lifeguard staff was working at the pool just prior to closing when a highly skilled, middle-aged swimmer silently slipped beneath the surface of the water during his workout and went unnoticed by the aquatic staff.
Analysis: Plaintiff argued that although there were three lifeguards on duty at the time of the incident, only one was stationed appropriately in an elevated lifeguard chair. Plaintiff also argued that such a large pool required more than a single guard to visually observe all the patrons in the water. Glare from the sun and distractions on the job were also significant allegations in this case and plaintiff believed that faster victim recognition, response and resuscitation was required in this case.
Defense argued that highly skilled, experienced swimmers just don’t drown but rather, they either die outright of other significant medical maladies or a debilitating medical event causes the drowning event. Defense also argued that too often Coroners and Medical Examiners rule “drowning” without performing an autopsy or checking family histories for Genetic “Drowning” Triggers. Finally, defense believed that lifeguards cannot prevent all swimming pool deaths.
Conclusion: In spite of offering a variety of defenses like sudden cardiac arrest, body blindness that is both physical and psychological, and the fact that lifeguards cannot guarantee patron safety, a significant settlement was offered to the family of the deceased. This case clearly illustrates when lifeguards are on duty, even the slightest deviations from the standard of care can make pool deaths difficult to defend.