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Drowning Cases and How California Is Changing Safety Laws

child drowning in a pool

When it comes to accidental deaths among children, drowning is second only to motor vehicle accidents when it comes to children ages 14 and under. It is also the sixth most prevalent cause of unintentional deaths in the United States, among all ages. So even though you may not see news reports about drownings, drowning incidents occur on a regular basis. Victims of a drowning accident may be able to sue the party or parties responsible for their deaths.

How Many People Die by Drowning Every Year in California?

The following are the drowning accident statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • The number of people who drown in unsupervised pools and beaches is substantially higher than in controlled facilities.
  • In California, an average of 1.08 people die from drowning every year per 100,000 people.
  • The number of drownings rises throughout the spring and summer months because of the warm weather.
  • Beaches have a greater rate of drowning than swimming pools, on average. This is most likely due to the fact that there are more people swimming there on average.
  • The majority of drownings occur between 4 and 6 p.m., while the majority of them occur before midday.
  • Drowning is four times as common in men than in women.

What Has Been Done To Prevent Drownings in California?

To prevent drownings, the state of California has undertaken a variety of initiatives, including public education and awareness campaigns, provision of swimming lessons, and encouraging improved access to lifesaving equipment. In addition, the state has enacted legislation to improve water safety, including requirements for lifeguards at public pools and beaches.

The three major pieces of legislation guiding Californians are listed below:

1. Alex’s Law (Sb 722)

California SB 722, better known as “Alex’s Law,” was signed into law by Governor Newsom on October 8, 2021. When children are engaging in or around a school swimming pool, an adult certified in CPR is required by the law to be present at all times. The regulation was enacted in the wake of the death of Alex Pierce, a 13-year-old student at the time, in a school pool during an after-school band party.

2. Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act was passed in 2007 and was approved by Congress to require pool owners and operators to observe certain basic safety practices that assist to lower the danger of certain forms of drowning. A requirement of the legislation is that drains in swimming pools and hot tubs have safety coverings to keep people safe from the power of suction. Virginia Graeme Baker, age six, perished in a hot tub drain in 2002 after being sucked in so tightly that it took two men to extricate her, hence the legislation.

3. The Swimming Pool Safety Act of California (SB 442)

SB 442, the Swimming Pool Safety Act, went into force in 2007 to protect swimmers. Private and public swimming pools must be erected with an appropriate fence, wall, or other enclosure and furnished with an approved pool safety cover under the law.  The act is designed to increase safety at public swimming pools by implementing new regulations for both pool operators and pool users.

Among these new regulations are also requirements for pool operators to post warning signs, provide safety instructions, and maintain safety equipment; and requirements for pool users to follow the posted safety instructions and refrain from engaging in unsafe behavior. Exit alarms were also deemed necessary as there might be a need to evacuate the pool at a moment’s notice.

All of these precautions were put in place to protect less ardent swimmers and provide a rapid response to people who might have an urgent need in and around the pool area.

Preventing Drowning by Taking Precautions: What You Should Do

Individual Swimmers

  1. Swimming is a dangerous sport and you should never do it alone. It’s best to go swimming with a friend or a buddy. Observe one another closely. Even if there are other people or a lifeguard there, parents must constantly keep an eye on their children.
  2. If you want to go swimming or boating, avoid drinking alcohol. Reaction speed is slowed and judgment and balance are affected by alcohol.
  3. If you or someone you’re with has a medical condition like epilepsy, diabetes, or a cardiac ailment that might cause impairment or loss of consciousness while swimming, use particular caution. Changing or missing a dose of medicine might lead to devastating consequences.
  4. Even if you’re an experienced swimmer, you should be mindful of the dangers of rapid currents, deep water, or an abrupt drop-off in natural bodies of water.
  5. To save a life, you must recognize a drowning individual. A common misconception is that if a person does not ask for aid, they are safe. When someone is in danger of drowning, their primary concern is to keep their airways open, not to say anything. The individual may appear to be splashing or waving. Typically, the individual tries to maintain his or her head above water by flailing around in the water with his or her arms outstretched.


  1. Wear a life jacket or other form of personal flotation device (PFD) for everyone, including infants, children, teens, and adults.
  2. Be wary of low-head dams and waterfalls in rivers, streams, and channels. There are a variety of low-head dams in existence, but the most common are constructions that are just six to 10 feet high. They can be particularly hazardous because of the presence of powerful backwash currents at the base of dams and waterfalls, which can pull people under.
  3. Make sure you’re aware of the current weather and water conditions before you go boating.
  4. If you’re a boat passenger or operator, don’t drink any alcohol.

If you need assistance after you sustained injuries in a California boating accident, the California boating accident injury attorneys at Karns & Karns can help.

Pool Owners

  1. Keep youngsters out of the pool unless an adult is there to supervise them. Homes with pools need to have a fence with self-latching, self-closing gates. The fence and hardware should be checked regularly for wear and tear and working order.
  2. For public pools, an alarm is required by SB 442, the Swimming Pool Safety Act. However, this is also invaluable for home pool owners. In this case, in addition to the pool, the alarm should ring somewhere else in the house, such as the garage. When a home’s doors or windows open straight onto the pool area, an alarm must go off.

Training for Swimming

Many organizations, such as the Red Cross and the YMCA, suggest that the best method to avoid drowning is to enroll children in swim lessons.

Children in these programs are required to master five skills: resurfacing after submersion, treading water, spinning 360 degrees in the water, swimming at least 25 yards, and rising out of the water without the assistance of a ladder.

The Red Cross also actively encourages swimming educational institutions to teach students never to go into the water when a lifeguard is not on duty, and never to go swimming alone.

Lawsuits for Drowning Victims

Accidental drowning victims’ relatives and survivors may be able to file a lawsuit against any negligent parties. A person or business may be held accountable for a drowning accident in numerous ways if:

  • When the event occurred, there was little oversight, according to the investigation.
  • The construction of the pool was not up to code.
  • Overcrowding at public beaches and private pools were not strictly enforced.
  • The officials “forgot” to post signs alerting visitors to the area’s potentially hazardous currents.
  • During an incident, there were not enough supervisors, such as lifeguards, on-site at all times (i.e. open business hours).
  • Lack of safety equipment or warnings.

Drowning victims can bring lawsuits against whoever they feel is responsible for their injuries. This could be the person who was supposed to be watching them (i.e the lifeguard), the homeowner that owns the pool, or even the manufacturer of the pool.

For assistance with a drowning lawsuit, a California personal injury attorney at Karns & Karns Personal Injury and Accident Attorneys can provide effective legal guidance and support.

The goal of these lawsuits is usually to get money to cover the cost of the victim’s medical bills. It may also be to cover for pain and suffering, lost wages, wrongful death, and other expenses related to the incident. A successful lawsuit may result in financial compensation for the victim’s family to help cover the damages incurred as a result of the drowning.

Legal claims based on carelessness or wrongful death are common in most drowning accident instances.

Which Victims of Drowning Accidents Are Eligible for Compensation?

After a drowning accident, victims may be entitled to compensation. The family of a drowning victim might get compensation for funeral expenses, loss of income, and other damages, including pain and suffering if the victim died as a result of the accident.

A full settlement can include:

  • Expenses related to medical care (both past and future).
  • In the case that the victim was a spouse or loved one, the loss of financial and emotional support or companionship.
  • A victim’s inability to work in the future due to disability or other permanent injury sustained in the accident.

Drowning Accident Lawsuit Fault Determination

In California, the determination of fault in a drowning accident lawsuit is a complex process. Generally, the party who negligently caused the drowning will be held liable for the damages suffered by the victim. However, the plaintiff must first show that the defendant was negligent and then must prove that the negligence was a proximate cause of the injury or fatality. This can be difficult to do, especially in cases where there are multiple defendants or where the defendant argues that there was no duty or that the plaintiff was also negligent.

So, first and foremost the state safety standards will be considered. Did the defendant(s) comply with state law in managing the pool, beach, lake, etc? The defendants may be held accountable for accidents if they don’t follow the set rules.

Consult a Lawyer After a Drowning Incident

When a person drowns, their family may be left with many questions. What happened? Who is responsible? How can we prevent this from happening again? A lawyer can help answer these questions and more. They can help determine if the drowning was accidental or if someone should be held liable. They can also help families understand their legal options and what they may be able to recover financially.

We understand that suing someone for a drowning tragedy may be a challenging and stressful experience for all parties involved. However, it may make all the difference in the world if you had the help of a lawyer who has previously won these kinds of cases. The attorneys at Karns & Karns Personal Injury and Accident Attorneys understand the complex legal issues surrounding drownings and can provide you with the guidance you need during this difficult time. We have years of experience representing survivors and families of those who have drowned and are committed to helping you get the best possible outcome for your case.

For a free consultation, you may call the California drowning accident attorneys at Karns & Karns Personal Injury and Accident Attorneys at 877-557-4221.

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