Shallow Water Dangers

Shallow Water Dangers

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Tom J. Griffiths, Ed.D, Aquatics Expert ::::
Recently, two separate but similar catastrophic diving cases settled for very large amounts for the plaintiffs.
In the first case, a young adult female suddenly ran off the pier and dove head first into a shallow lake to regain a paper, which escaped her possession. Her injury resulted in quadriplegia. The lake was at very low levels because of draught conditions, the pier was very long and wide, and the pier sat high above the surface of the lake. Although the pier did have “NO DIVING” signage posted, because the young women came off the lake on a boat and accessed the pier for the very first time, plaintiff argued the signs were pointed in the wrong direction for her to see. They were pointed towards land where most guests would access the pier. Plaintiff also argued the pier should have had protective railings or barriers to prevent dives and jumps from the pier.
The second case involved a middle-aged man celebrating his birthday with friends. Although this case was similar to the first one, this particular deck, surrounding a bar, had protective ropes along the perimeter of the deck adjacent to a lagoon. At one time “NO DIVING” signage was posted on pilings, but for some reason the signs were not there at the time of the incident. Plaintiff argued the ropes were not a barrier and there were no signs. The injured party in this case jumped and dove from the deck over the ropes just prior to his fateful dive. On his final head-first attempt, he broke his neck and was rendered quadriplegic.
Both tragic cases are significant in that they accurately reflect data collected on catastrophic head first entries into shallow water:

  • Both bodies of water contained less than five feet of water where 95% of all catastrophic dives occur.
  • Both injured parties were impaired at the time of the incident.
  • In both cases, it was the victims first time visiting the site.
  • In both cases, plaintiffs argued that signage and barriers were inadequate.
  • In both cases, the total time of the accident scenario was less than a second.
  • In both cases, very large settlements were awarded to the plaintiffs by multiple defendants.

Lessons Learned: Whenever people are permitted to congregate or access shallow water, aggressive signage utilizing warning shapes, warning colors, and warning symbols are needed along with effective barriers. While it is hoped that these preventive measures will protect the public, from experience we know these measures will certainly lower liability.
Tom J. Griffiths, Ed.D. is an Aquatics Expert with DJS Associates and can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.

 

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