Water Safety & Awareness

Last month, during the week of June 4th to 11th, 2011, Canada observed National Water Safety Week.  Indeed, water safety is a growing concern in Canada.  Though we have the great fortune of having what seems to be an abundance of water in this country, the tragic facts according to the Red Cross are that an average of 400 Canadians drown each year, and more than half of those drownings occur during the summer months.  Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for Canadian children ages one to four. Small children are also the most vulnerable group for near drownings.  It takes only minutes for a child to disappear from sight and less than three centimetres of water for a baby to drown.  For every death, there are an estimated four to five additional near-drowning incidents, which require hospitalization and can be equally devastating as they often result in varying degrees of brain injury.

The drowning risks come from an array of sources.  Backyard pools are especially dangerous for small children.  In addition to active supervision, one should ensure adequate barriers are in place for backyard pools such as four-sided fencing along with a self-closing, self-latching gate.  In addition, and something that is often overlooked, are portable toddler pools.  These pools should be emptied after each use.  The scope of risks is broad.  Young children have reportedly drowned, due to a lack of adult supervision, in toilets, buckets and even in some cases puddles.  Failure to take proper care when there are children around water can lead to devastating consequences.  Aside from death or injuries, some of the consequences include criminal charges and civil liability.

Accidents do happen but they most certainly can be avoided.  In a very recent case before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, a woman was charged with criminal negligence causing death for her actions or, more specifically, her failure to take proper precautions.  This woman left her 11 month old son in just inches of water and unsupervised when she left the house to pick up ice cream.  Despite CPR and other resuscitation attempts, the boy suffocated in the water and died.  While this is one extreme example, there are many more scenarios where a parent or pool owner may be responsible for less obvious shortcomings.  For instance, depending on the specific situation, the owner in charge of a pool may be accountable for any deaths or injuries that result from drowning accidents.  The pool owner is held to a reasonable standard of care in the circumstances and is required to prove that he or she did everything reasonably possible to ensure his or her pool was safe.  In addition, some individuals who have pools at their homes may be liable for their guests’ injuries.  Furthermore, pools that are open to the public or are not privately held by an individual must have lifeguards on duty to save individuals who may suffer accidents in a pool.  When lifeguards are not able to be on duty, it must be clearly sign-posted that a lifeguard is not on duty.  Water depths must also be marked.  Failure to do so may be dangerous for individuals who mistakenly dive into shallow ends of the pool or to individuals who go to depths that are beyond their swimming abilities.

Regardless of whether a pool is public or private, minors should be supervised at all times.  Failure to supervise may lead to liability for the person who was supposed to supervise in the event of an injury.  By ignoring rules that are put in place to keep pools safe, those responsible put the minors using the pool at a higher risk for drowning.  It is true that liability depends on the circumstances of each case, but in all circumstances it is best to implement and enforce as many reasonable safety precautions as possible.

As always, though this article intends to give you a basic overview of the law, it is never a substitute for consulting your lawyer.  If you or someone you know was injured from unsafe water conditions, you are advised to discuss your legal options with a personal injury lawyer.

Nigel Gilby is a partner and injury lawyer in the London, Ontario law firm of Lerners LLP.  Nigel specializes in assisting people injured in car accidents, accident benefits cases, catastrophic injuries, brain injuries, slips and falls, off-road vehicle accidents, boating accidents and other serious personal injury cases.  He has been recognized by LEXPERT and the Law Society of Upper Canada as a specialist in Civil Litigation. Nigel has been selected by his peers to appear in the “Best Lawyers in Canada” publication since its inception. See Nigel’s professional biography for more information about his work in the area of personal injury law or contact him at 519.640.6328 or by email at ngilby@lerners.ca.

Christopher Dawson is an injury lawyer in the London, Ontario law firm of Lerners LLP.  Christopher’s personal injury practice includes assisting people injured in motor vehicle accidents, accident benefit cases, spinal cord injuries, orthopaedic injuries, injuries as a result of defective products, off-road vehicle accidents, boating accidents and other serious injury cases.  See Christopher’s professional biography for more information about his work in the area of personal injury law or contact him at 519.640.6360 or by email at cdawson@lerners.ca.

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