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Swimming Pool Accidents

Dangerous Swimming Pool

An all-to-common tragedy faced by the water -safety community each year involves a child, a guest, or a friend who drowns while swimming in the presence of others who are swimming in the same pool. The general public, untrained in the investigation and causation of water safety deaths, justifiably can wonder how such a drowning could occur. Unfortunately, the pattern of such swimming deaths is quite similar.

The average person is usually unfamiliar with the pool's depth, slope and bottom configuration; untrained in identifying the initial stages of drowning when the victim is in panic thrashing about atop the water for a matter of seconds, and then slipping underwater and out of view. While not generally realized drowning victims almost never yell for help with their major concern being to continue breathing.


A properly-positioned lifeguard could easily prevent these needless deaths. A certified water-safety professional is trained in identifying drowning behavior, making rescues and performing life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) procedures. The lifeguard perched atop a chair can easily identify swimmers most at risk of slipping into distress. Accident prevention is the lifeguard's primary responsibility.

The Three Stages of Drowning
Stage I

In Stage I the victim is vertical in the water, with arms extended out from the side, moving about in a manner deceptively resembling a swimming movement to the untrained observer. The victim has his head held back to keep the mouth and nose above water and does not yell for help because it would require expelling air from the lungs. The natural reflex is to keep the mouth closed to prevent taking in water and to preserve air. The victim will struggle for only 20 to 60 seconds before going below the water's surface. The properly-positioned lifeguard is uniquely able to identify swimmers at risk and to timely make the rescue.

Stage II

The victim gradually becomes physically exhausted and is unable to stay atop the water. Of course, the victim is still conscious and now below the surface and begins to hold breath. But then there is the need to inhale and a frantic attempt is made to reach the surface. If the victim is unable to reach the surface, the victim inhales water into the mouth and then into the respiratory system with water entering the lungs. Thereafter, reflexive coughing and gagging takes place, damaging tissues in the pulmonary system and ultimately blood appears in the victim's mouth, followed frequently by vomiting. Unable to obtain air, the victim begins to lapse into unconsciousness, accompanied by convulsive spasms, involuntary urination and bowel movement. At this point breathing stops and the respiratory system shuts down.

Stage III

Now that the victim is unconscious, there is twitching of facial muscles and cardiac arrest occurs as the circulatory system stops functioning. The body sinks to the bottom and with the absence of breathing and blood circulation, clinical death results. The brain may remain viable for approximately 5 minutes in warm water. Absent CPR, biological death occurs with the cessation of brain activity.

Of course, the stages take place quite rapidly and thus the need for immediate and effective rescue procedures.

Typical Pool Ordinances

A typical pool ordinance applicable to hotels and motels requires that the slope of the pool bottom, where the shallow end leads to the deep end, be no steeper than one foot vertical drop for each three feet horizontal; requires the placement of a 36" high fence or other barrier with a self-latching gate be located such that points of access to the users of the pool are at a part of the pool deck adjacent to water having a depth of not more than four feet; requires that a shepherd's crook and a ring buoy be mounted on one side of the pool at approximately the halfway point of the length of the pool; and requires that a first aid kit be placed at all pools.


Any investigation into a swimming pool death should address the following questions. Was there a lifeguard on duty at the time of the incident and if not why not? Was the pool design substandard and a substantial factor in the drowning? Was there a violation of local safety codes? Were video-monitoring equipment, safety alarm buttons, or emergency phones installed at or near the pool which would enhance the likelihood of a successful outcome to a potentially tragic water incident?


Death in a swimming pool is a reasonably foreseeable and preventable event which can arise as a result of a failure to have a trained lifeguard to minimize and or eliminate the risk of drowning at a pool. Another factor that can contribute to a swimming pool tragedy is a defectively designed pool not built in accordance with acceptable industry standards and in compliance with local ordinances. Pool water can be a dangerous place. Accident prevention is the goal.

This informational piece was prepared by Silverman & Fodera. If you would like more information on this topic, call us at (800) 220-LAW1, or use the "Do I Have A Case?" link on this web site.