In June 1959, two Atlanta youngsters, one of who was sporting a new haircut, nearly drowned in area swimming pools. What lessons does this incident, as well as another one which occurred on the same day, have for today’s Marietta personal injury attorneys?
On June 13, 1959, 11-year-old William Johnson wanted to show off his new haircut, as well as his swimming prowess, at the Chandler Park Swimming Pool. Unfortunately, young Mr. Johnson had the former, but not the latter. The young boy did not know how to swim, but he nevertheless went out into deep water. He nearly drowned in an instant.
Across town, a 12-year-old girl, whose name has been lost to history, was enjoying a late spring dip at a swimming pool in DeKalb. She brushed against an underwater light which had shorted out, and was almost electrocuted.
Facts About Swimming Pool Drownings
The catastrophic injury rate in these cases is about ten times higher than the rate for other types of unintentional injuries, such as falls. Even scarier, the higher hospitalization rate only tells part of the story.
Even a few minutes under the water is enough to cause a brain injury. These wounds are always permanent. Unlike skin, bone, and other body cells, once brain cells die, they never regenerate. Although doctors cannot reverse the injury, they can drastically reduce brain injury symptoms. But the road is long and expensive.
In the immediate wake of a brain injury, doctors often perform surgery to reduce brain swelling. This surgery often limits the damage. As a name like “brain surgery” implies, the procedure is difficult and costly.
After surgical recovery, most swimming pool drowning victims must spend months in physical therapy. Brain injury physical therapy is nothing like broken bone or other types of therapy. The therapist must teach uninjured parts of the brain to assume lost functions. This process is very difficult, and furthermore, progress usually comes in fits and starts. Victims may show little or no progress for weeks or months, then suddenly experience a breakthrough.
A Marietta personal injury attorney plays a critical role in this process. Attorneys can arrange for victims to receive medical care for no upfront cost. Additionally, during physical therapy, attorneys fight to keep stingy insurance companies from prematurely pulling the financial plug.
Breaking Down the Assumption of the Risk Defense
In public swimming pool drowning claims, such as apartment, hotel, and homeowners’ association pools, the assumption of the risk doctrine is definitely the most common insurance company defense. Admittedly, it is a very powerful and effective defense. The aforementioned “buzz cut drowning” victim may have had a hard time overcoming this defense.
However, this defense is not a slam dunk for insurance companies. There are several moving parts, and since the insurance company has the burden of proof on this point, they must all fall into place in exactly the right way.
The nature of the sign is important. If a pool owner posts signs like “No Lifeguard on Duty” or “Swim at your Own Risk,” these signs do not immunize the owner. They just make the elements of this defense easier to prove. These elements are:
- Voluntary assumption of
- A known risk.
Many times, the warning sign is buried on a long list of pool rules. If that’s the case, the sign might as well not be there at all. Additionally, the insurance company must prove that the victim could read the sign and understand what it meant. If the victim had limited reading or English skills, such a showing is difficult to make.
The nature of the victim is important as well. Typically, the brain does not fully develop until age 25. Until that time, the amygdala largely controls a person’s responses. Scientists are still not exactly sure what the amygdala does and does not do. But most researchers agree that the amygdala controls emotional responses like:
- Selfishness, and
We see these effects in children all the time. When children chase balls into busy streets, they are not trying to annoy their parents. They respond emotionally to the lost ball, because they cannot respond logically. Their brains cannot process the fact that it’s dangerous to chase a ball into traffic.
The same thing applies in swimming pools. All the signs in the world will not deter kids from acting carelessly in the water. Once a Cobb County jury understands how the brain works, it is easier for a Marietta personal injury attorney to obtain needed compensation.
Defective Swimming Pool Equipment Claims
These types of claims are more common in private pools. Drownings occur in these places as well, but not as frequently.
Georgia law governs most swimming pool safety equipment. For example, all pools must be completely surrounded by unclimbable fences. Additionally, these fences must have self-latching gates which operate from the pool side and are impossible for children to reach from the outside. If the owner fails to maintain these standards, and that failure substantially causes injury, the owner may be liable for damages as a matter of law.
Malfunctioning electrical equipment, like that defective light in the above story, also causes many injuries. Most people know that water and electricity do not mix very well.
On a related note, defective drains cause a number of swimming pool drownings. If the drain is set too high, it causes dangerous undercurrents which literally suck young simmers under the water.
Finally, defective pumps are a serious problem. Pool cleaning chemicals, like chlorine, are incredibly toxic. That’s one reason the pump is so important. If the pump essentially flushes the chlorine out of the water, it lingers long enough to clean the pool but not make the water toxic. So, if the pump backs up or otherwise malfunctions, a dangerous chlorine gas cloud could form over the pool. Perhaps more significantly, the chlorine may linger in the pool water, causing severe chemical burns.
Contact an Experienced Lawyer
Dangerous swimming pool conditions quickly cause extremely serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.