Do I have a Case?

Do I Have a Case?

How to recognize the signs of drowning

Drowning simmers do not always appear to be in danger

As the summer months approach, millions of Americans will flock to pools, beaches, and waterparks to cool off, have fun, and enjoy a playful family outing. Although many of us feel safe knowing lifeguards and other emergency responders are on scene to assist in an emergency, parents and family members must be able recognize the signs and symptoms of swimmers in danger.

The most common misconceptions about drowning are what an actual drowning event looks like. Since many of us are conditioned by television to think distressed swimmers thrash their arms and legs, waive for help, and yell for assistance, actual drowning emergencies often go unnoticed.

Signs of drowning - The Instinctive Drowning Response

The Coast Guard published guidelines for recognizing the signs and symptoms of what it calls “The Instinctive Drowning Response” in its Fall 2006 issue of On Scene: The Journal of the U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue. While the journal goes into much more detail about what an actual drowning event looks like, the article focuses on dispelling many common misconceptions, specifically, that drowning victims cannot usually yell for yelp or waive their arms in distress.

During a drowning event, our bodies are conditioned to perform two vital functions to stay afloat: breathing and treading water. During a drowning event, our mouths only have seconds to take in air while above the surface of the water and our arms and legs focus on keeping us upright as long as possible, making it almost impossible to waive for help or kick.

  • Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before speech occurs.
  • Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
  • Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
  • Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  • From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs

How to drowning accidents happen?

One of the most common reasons drowning accidents occur is because lifeguards and other safety staff fail to recognize the signs and symptoms of a drowning event. Even trained professionals often fall short of their duty to remain vigilant, remember their training, and act quickly when victims are in distress.

Other causes of tragic drowning accidents include:

  • Improper signage and warnings
  • Malfunctioning equipment, including filters and lighting
  • Unmaintained surfaces causing slippery or dangerous conditions
  • Non-compliance with state and local safety codes, particularly fencing

What are my legal rights if a loved one drowns?

Like many negligent entities, swimming pool operators and managers often attempt to skirt liability for their inability to take the reasonable safety precautions to prevent serious injuries, sometimes going as far as to blame the victim. At The Cochran Firm, D.C., our experienced Washington DC drowning lawyers dedicate themselves to uncovering the truth and holding negligent parties accountable.

If your family suffered a tragic drowning accident, contact our office to discuss your case. Our law firm offers free, confidential consultations to victims and do not charge any fees to investigate claims. Furthermore, our lawyers work on a contingency basis, meaning they do not collect any fees unless they successfully resolve a case.


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The Cochran Firm handles Medical Malpractice, Catastrophic Personal Injuries, Motor Vehicle Accidents & Wrongful Death Claims for clients throughout the United States of America. The information on this website does not constitute legal advice nor form an attorney-client relationship. Please contact The Cochran Firm today to schedule a free consultation.
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