Water Park Lawsuits

Water Park Expert Witness

Tom J. Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic Safety Expert
When it comes to waterpark lawsuits, two trends become apparent: Drownings in wave pools and accidents on waterslides.
Concerning wave pools, these manufactured “ocean” environments become hazardous when weak swimmers attempt to swim in strong waves where water reaches over their heads. It’s hazardous enough for weak swimmers to swim in deep water. When you add strong waves, many swimmers simply become too fatigued from fighting the rising and falling water. Continue reading “Water Park Lawsuits”

Expert Swimmer Drowns During Underwater Workout

Swimming Pool Drownings

Tom Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic Safety Expert
In a large 50-meter swimming pool, an expert swimmer in the military drowned while “dolphining” for extended periods of time. He worked out strenuously on the surface prior to his underwater exercises, so it is likely that he depleted his oxygen and carbon dioxide stores prior to his underwater swims. This was a classic Shallow Water Blackout scenario, where a good swimmer overexerts themself in the water and then holds their breath for long periods of time repetitively underwater.
Dolphining is an underwater kicking exercise where the swimmer, wearing fins, will swim many underwater lengths while performing an up and down dolphin kick. During dolphining, the expert swimmer fell unconscious and the lifeguards on duty missed recognizing him underwater, which is not difficult to do. When someone quietly slips beneath the surface, the water hides and suffocates its victims. In addition, lifeguards tend not to watch these underwater swimmers because they are such superior swimmers, often stronger swimmers than the lifeguards on duty. Lifeguards likewise wrongly believe good swimmers do not drown.
In this case the family of the deceased blamed the lifeguards for their inattentiveness. Conversely, the defendants blamed the underwater swimmer because he should have known competitive and repetitive underwater swimming is dangerous and deadly.
Lessons Learned: ALL swimming pools MUST ban extreme underwater swimming and prolonged breath-holding. Lifeguards must be trained to enforce this vitally important rule.
Tom Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic Safety Expert with DJS Associates, Inc., can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.

Child Drowns when Church Camp Visits Swimming Beach

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Tom Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic Safety Expert
Near the end of the summer season, a church camp brought a large group of children to a life-guarded lake for a day of swimming. At the last moment, a young child was placed in the camp as a favor to the mother. This mother did not complete the required paperwork and permission slip to participate in the camp. Despite not obtaining the proper paperwork from the mother, the church camp allowed the child to attend the lake trip and partake in the activities.
When the young child approached the water’s edge, lifeguards on duty told the child and chaperone the “water-wings” she was wearing were not allowed in the swimming area, but did not offer the child a life jacket or any other acceptable form of drowning prevention equipment. Additionally, the lifeguards did not watch the at risk child carefully after asking her to remove her floaties. Making matters worse, just prior to the child entering the water, two of the five on-duty lifeguards left the lake to participate in high school football practice. Continue reading “Child Drowns when Church Camp Visits Swimming Beach”

Child Dies After Swim Lesson

Swimming Pool

Tom Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic Safety Expert
This case was highly unusual and tragic on many levels. A well-known swim school with a long history of success and safety was sued by the parents of a child who died after she participated in a morning swim class. What made this case so unusual is that the young girl participated in swim lessons in the morning and then was found later that evening by her parents, unresponsive in the bathtub.
One of the popular activities during swim lessons is to challenge children to jump or push off the pool deck and swim to the instructor standing several feet away in the water. When this young child attempted to perform this skill as she had done in the past, she choked on some water. The swim instructor lifted her out of the water, comforted her, and placed her on the pool deck allowing her to play on dry land rather than participate in the next water activity. The instructor was not overly concerned as this happens frequently during swim lessons.
The parents claimed that when they picked up the child from swimming lessons, she was just not the same. During the remainder of the day she demonstrated various degrees of fatigue and loss of appetite. As a result of the child’s behavior, around 8 PM in the evening, the parents placed her in a warm bath and left her unattended for an undisclosed amount of time. When the parents did not hear her making any sounds in the tub, they checked on her and found her laying sideways, unresponsive in the shallow water in the tub. The parents claimed the swim school and staff were negligent in many areas, but mostly for not informing the parents their child had choked on “copious” amounts of water and needed medical attention. Some medical experts in this case claimed she died as a result of hyponatremia, a rare medical condition caused by drinking too much water which changes the sodium levels in the body and eventually can kill. Defense experts claimed hyponatremia is exceedingly rare, sometimes occurring in infants, endurance athletes, and those with mental health issues. Occasionally when this medical malady does occur, the symptoms (coughing, fatigue) show up most often in the first couple hours of the event, not eight hours later. Continue reading “Child Dies After Swim Lesson”

Hotel Pool Parties Present a Problem

Indoor Pool

Tom Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic Safety Expert
Recently, a rash of lawsuits have been filed against hotels because of drownings occurring to paying and non-paying guests.
Most of these lawsuits claimed that a major cause of the incident drownings were related to swimming pool parties. Statistically speaking, more than half of all drownings in the United States occur when a group of patrons visit an aquatic facility. These swimming groups are typically comprised of birthday parties, family reunions, Fourth of July parties, and the like. Hotel swimming pools tend to be significantly smaller than municipal pools, YMCA pools, school pools, etc. Additionally, the vast majority of hotel pools are “Swim at Your Own Risk, NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY.” Parties at hotel pools quickly inundate these small vessels with too many people. This creates hazardous situations that can quickly turn deadly; therefore, hotel pools should ban swimming pool parties, unless the hotel provides a lifeguard and creates a pool party policy that is enforceable. Continue reading “Hotel Pool Parties Present a Problem”

“Supervision” v. “Passive Supervision” in Child Drownings

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Tom Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic Safety Expert
An extended family met at a popular resort hotel in a sunbelt state. The hotel had multiple, well maintained pools located throughout their property.
According to an independent inspection of the facilities, no health code violations or standards of care for resort pools were committed. Fencing, self-closing self-latching gates, rescue equipment, and emergency phone were all in place.
As is customary for these types of pools, swimming is: “At your Own Risk” and “No Lifeguard is on Duty.” These signs were also prominently displayed around the pool. Bar staff, waiters, and recreation directors were also stationed at the pools, but no lifeguards were on duty. The adults in this family decided to rest in their rooms on the third floor, but not before dropping their two young sons off at the pool. Not long after the boys were left, without parental supervision, the youngest boy fell unconscious beneath the “shallow water” pool surface; a depth of less than five feet. The older boy frantically attempted to reach his brother until pool patrons noticed the commotion and responded by pulling the child out of the pool and beginning Continue reading ““Supervision” v. “Passive Supervision” in Child Drownings”

High School Student Drowns on River Rafting Trip

River Rafting Expert Witness

Tom Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic Safety Expert ::::
Case Synopsis: A high school Senior participated on a Senior class rafting trip approximately two hours away from the school. Because he was a non-swimmer his father refused to sign the permission slip to go on the field trip. The victim wanted to go badly because his friends were going, so he forged his father’s signature and as a result, the school allowed him to attend. Although the weather was sunny and warm, the river was extremely high and fast due to heavy rains earlier in the week. All six participants in the victim’s raft removed their lifejackets shortly after launching. Soon after removing their lifejackets, the raft rode up the face of a large standing wave and all six students were ejected into the raging river. All students managed to get to shore safely except for the victim who was found dead several days later. The cause of his death was drowning. Continue reading “High School Student Drowns on River Rafting Trip”

Where Have All the High Dives Gone? 2018 Update

Aquatic Safety Expert High Dive

Tom J. Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic / Water Safety Expert::::
For the past quarter century, high diving boards (3-meters; ten feet) have been disappearing from public and private swimming pools across the country. This swimming pool staple, which so many middle aged and older Americans learned to love while they were children, is no longer available for their children and grandchildren.
Statistics indicate that springboard diving is a very safe sport. That is because the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), USA diving and many other water safety agencies have safety training programs for their coaches and follow strict depth and distance requirements to provide safe “diving envelopes” in the water for divers/jumpers. So what’s the problem?
Far too many three-meter (high dives) were placed in recreational settings without the assistance of qualified coaches and springboard diving agencies. Consequently, numerous falls to unprotected concrete decks below have occurred around the country resulting in death or paralysis. Hence, high dives are quickly becoming dinosaurs. Continue reading “Where Have All the High Dives Gone? 2018 Update”

Woman Injures Herself Discharging From Waterslide

aquatic-safety-expert-waterslide

Thomas J. Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic Safety Consultant ::::
A young mother took her two children to a family leisure pool with water slides at an aquatic facility. According to her testimony, after taking a few successful slides down a large, fast waterslide, the woman asked the lifeguard on duty if she could go down the waterslide laying on her stomach. Although her testimony was that the lifeguard said she could go down the slide in this inappropriate and unsafe manner, the lifeguard on duty denied it. There were large, visible signs posted at the slide, which clearly stated that all riders should be seated in an upright position or laying down on their backs; all other riding positions were prohibited. Because the woman slid down the slide blindly, with her face towards the flume, she was unable to see when she would be discharged into the shallow water, and therefore could not properly prepare for impact by flexing her knees. Due to her blind and dangerous backward position, she severely injured her foot and ankle. This lawsuit went to trial and the jury deliberated for approximately ten minutes and rendered a verdict for the defense.
Lessons learned: Waterslides are designed for safety. With lifeguards positioned both at the top and the bottom of each slide, they are typically very safe. Most slide injuries are caused by rider misbehavior. Perhaps the most significant finding in this case was the woman signed a waiver prior to entering the waterpark releasing the aquatic facility of responsibility if she became injured during her use of the facility.
Verdict for the defense.
Thomas J. Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic Safety Consultant with DJS Associates, can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.