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March 2, 2023

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drowning statistics and fatalities Nearly 50% of all drowning accidents in the United States are fatal. Drowning survivors often face permanent brain damage due to a lack of oxygen while underwater. Here, we review the latest data and summarize some of the more disturbing drowning statistics.

Were you involved in this water accident, or did you lose a loved one who drowned? The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC represent drowning accident families to ensure they receive the financial compensation they deserve.

Contact the drowning accident lawyer at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone number) or contact form today to schedule a free consultation. All information you share with our law office remains confidential through an attorney-client relationship.

Water activities in a neighbor’s backyard, community pool, or local lake provide hours of enjoyment. During the hot summer months, swimming pools, hot tubs, lakes, rivers, and creeks are often occupied by adults and children eager to avoid the heat.

Sadly, drowning remains a leading cause of unintentional injury and death among young and old adults and children younger than five.

Defining Fatal and Non-Fatal Drowning

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drowning is the “process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion and liquid.” Nearly all drowning events are non-fatal (near-drowning) where the “process of respiratory impairment stopped before death.”

The deprivation of oxygen during a drowning event can cause the body to shut down and lose consciousness while water enters the lungs. Many drowning victims have died of cardiac arrest during the event.

The World Health Organization states that without sufficient oxygen due to submersion in water for 4 to 6 minutes, the victim can suffer irreversible severe brain damage leading to a permanent neurological disability.

Common injuries and disabilities suffered by non-fatal unintentional drowning victims include lung damage, learning disabilities, memory loss, nerve damage, dysfunctioning motor skills, and pneumonia.

United States Fatal and Non-Fatal Drownings Statistics and Facts

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), people can drown anywhere, including private and public swimming pools, hotels, summer camps, YMCA, hot tubs, spots, ponds, lakes, and when traveling on cruise ships.

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children 1-4 years old among all ethnicities, including whites, Hispanics, and African American children. The people most at risk of drowning include children ages 1-4 years old (in backyard swimming pools) and adolescents, fifteen years and older swimming in a natural water setting.

Other drowning statistics involving fatal and non-fatal events include:

  • Approximately 25% of victims who died from drowning were swimming when the accident occurred
  • Most fatal and non-fatal drownings happened from late spring to the end of summer
  • Males account for 80% of all fatal drowning victims
  • Most fatal drownings happen in American southern and western states
  • There are far fewer fatal drownings in urban and suburban areas than in rural areas in the United States
  • Approximately 40% of drowned people died or suffered permanent brain damage at a water depth of 5 feet or less
  • In the United States, drowning ranks as the fifth leading cause of unintentional death
  • Over 50% of all drowning victims transferred to an emergency department were involved in boat-related drownings
  • Nearly 33% of all water-related drownings happen after dark, including boating accidents and snowmobile drowning
  • Only 5% of all victims who died from drowning in a boating crash were wearing a life jacket when the accident occurred
  • Approximately 25% of all victims dying in a boating accident did not have a life jacket on board when the crash occurred
  • Global drowning rates show that over 325,000 drowning victims die each year worldwide, due to various factors including a lack of swimming skills
  • Many drowned people died or were severely injured during the winter months when walking, driving, or snowmobiling on lakes and rivers on thin ice
  • Approximately 4000 people die from drowning every year in the United States
  • Drowning is the fifth leading cause of death involving newborns to five-year-olds
  • Most boating fatalities were caused by drowning
  • Men and women 20 to 25 years old have increased drowning death rates when participating in water sports than other age groups
  • Most drownings occur during peak warmer months, especially in the mid-to-late afternoon
  • Most alcohol-related drowning events occur after spending several hours enjoying water activities
  • The elderly with heart problems could lead to loss of consciousness when in the water, leading to drowning caused by low blood pressure or a heart attack
  • Most fatal drowning events have happened in open waters on rivers, ponds, reservoirs, canals, lakes, and the ocean
  • Statistics show that most older people never learned how to swim or took swimming lessons
  • Nearly 65% of African-American children never learned how to swim, nor did 45% of Hispanics and 40% of whites
  • Emergency departments in the United States treat nearly 6500 children 14 years and younger each year for home pool and spa injuries
  • A drowning can occur in as little as 20 seconds
  • A CDC research study reveals that 75% of all fatal drowned adults and children died in residential swimming pools
  • In 2016, over 9000 people visited ER departments for emergency care in the United States for non-fatal submersion injuries (CDC)
  • The five leading worldwide causes of death in children fourteen years and younger include meningitis (217,500 cases annually)), HIV (199,000 cases), drowning (140,200) cases, measles (125,800 cases), and tuberculosis (69,600 cases)
  • Approximately 28% of all drowned children and adults died in lakes and ponds and 29% and rivers, with less than 3% occurring in a lifeguard-supervise setting
  • Many asylum-seekers and migrants journeying to safer countries often cross dangerous waters using unsafe, overcrowded vessels, increasing the chance of drowning during turbulent water or inclement weather
  • In 2017, approximately 68% of the 658 deaths involving boating accidents were caused by drowning
  • Alcohol use in or near water increases the chance of drowning
  • Thousands of drowning cases involve flood disasters where the victims drown from cyclones, sue nominees, storm searches, and extreme rainfall
  • Over 20% of all entrapment injuries in death cases occurred in whirlpool tubs, and 33% occurred in a spa
  • According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, nearly two-thirds of swimming pool circulation entrapment events happened in public places
  • Medical conditions like epilepsy and the use of sedatives and tranquilizers increase the risk of a water accident for any human
  • Leaving infants unsupervised or placing a child in charge of the infant around water increases their chance of drowning injuries or unintentional injury-related death
  • The USA Foundation revealed that drowning is a silent killer, occurring in as little as 20-60 seconds
  • Adults supervising others swimming should know cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is proven effective at saving lives and improving drowning victim outcomes when seconds count until they receive emergency department care

Drowning Statistics Involving Children

A toddler’s curiosity and activity levels when exploring their surroundings increase their chance of drowning, especially when attracted to pools, ponds, and rivers. Many young drowning victims died silently and quickly in just a few inches of water.

A lack of supervision remains the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ahead of motor vehicle crashes and birth defects. Drowning stats among children include:

  • Swim lessons are crucial and a matter of life and death for children younger than five who spend time in home swimming pools and lakes to avoid an unintentional injury-related death
  • Nearly 70% of all children who died from drowning were near one or both parents were in charge of supervising the child at a swimming pool or family gathering
  • Nearly 10% of all drowned children died in portable pools
  • More boys fourteen years and younger have died from drowning than girls in the same age group
  • Studies show that parents who have low or no swimming competence will not ensure that their children become proficient at swimming
  • The American Red Cross announced in 2020 that approximately 56% of children between four and seventeen years of age could not perform basic water drowning prevention swimming skills required to save their life
  • National drowning rates show that on average, most adults are not as proficient in swimming as children fourteen years and younger
  • Nearly all fatal and non-fatal drowned children were harmed in familiar surroundings, including 65% of events happening in the child’s family’s pool or the swimming pool at a neighbor, relative, or friend’s house
  • Malfunctioning swimming pool circulation equipment entrapped thirty-three adults and children between 2009 and 2013 in the US, leading to drowning and near-drowning events
  • Nearly 70% of children living in homes with a household income of less than $50,000 a year never learned proficient swimming skills
  • Having increased access to lakes, ponds, community pools, and backyard swimming pools heighten the risk of drowning. Children living near pools, irrigation channels, ponds, and ditches are especially at risk of drowning events
  • Approximate 77% of children involved in an unintentional injury death involving drowning were seen in the water just five minutes before the event occurred
  • Approximately 46% of drowned children were last seen in the house and not anywhere by the pool
  • Over 87% of all drowning fatalities involving children under five years of age occur in hot tubs and home pools
  • National drowning rates show that children between five and seventeen years of age are more likely to drown in a lake, pond, or natural water than in swimming pools
  • Nearly 1 out of every four drowning deaths involving children occur at family gatherings
  • Nearly all fatal child drowning events involving children under one year old occur at home
  • Small children are more likely to drown in ditches, cisterns, streams, wells, garden ponds, and buckets in only a few inches of water than in swimming pools and lakes

Senior Citizen Drowning Statistics Involving Injury and Death

Many seniors enjoy aquatic pastimes during their retirement years, including kayaking, canoeing, sir sports, fishing, diving, and swimming. However, the older an individual gifts, the more likely they are to suffer a chronic medical condition that could increase the risk of a drowning accident.

Some drowning stats involving the elderly include:

  • The drowning rates among seniors are significantly higher than other age groups, often related to the challenges of managing an emergency
  • Statistics show that most older people never learned how to swim or know water safety rules
  • Alcohol use in or near pools, hot tubs, lakes, rivers, and oceans increases the chance of a submersion injury
  • Medical conditions like epilepsy and the use of sedatives and tranquilizers increase the risk of a water accident

World Health Organization: Drowning Common Causes

According to the World Health Organization, nearly every unintentional injury-related death could be prevented if everyone follows water safety precautions, including never leaving children alone in or near the water.

The National Safety Council states that many people underestimate the dangers of water and how a lake, ocean, or river can have an undertow or rip current that could sweep children and adults off their feet and away from the shore. The most common causes of drowning injuries and deaths include:

Unable to swim – Many adults and children playing or swimming in water never receive proper swimming training or understand water safety rules. Over 70% of drowning victims never received swimming lessons. The inability to swim is a leading cause of unintentional injury and drowning deaths.

A lack of barriers – Many drownings occur because there was no secured barrier around the swimming area, like a fence with a lock guarding the neighbor’s pool. Securing the area increases water safety by reducing a child’s risk of submersion injury by over 80%.

Lack of adult supervision – Lifeguards should always be present at community pools, rivers, and lakes when any swimmer is in the area. A neighbor’s pool should always have a competent supervising individual (18+ years or older) who has learned how to swim. An individual should never swim alone, and a pool owner should follow the swimming 10/20 rule, meaning the lifeguard or competent adult swimmer should scan the pool or swimming area at least once every 10 seconds and reach a person in distress within 20 seconds.

Not wearing life jackets – The CDC reports that in 2010, over 70% of boating/drowning accidents involved 88% of the boat occupants not wearing life jackets. Not wearing life jackets is a leading cause of unintentional injury and water-related drowning deaths.

Alcohol impairment– According to the US Coast Guard, consuming alcohol accounts for over 70% of all water-related watercraft accident/drowning deaths involving adults and adolescents. Alcohol consumption can impair a swimmer’s ability and judgment on how far they can swim safely. Approximately 50% of all boating accidents and over 30% of boat accident deaths involved consuming alcohol.

Defective equipment – Many drownings are the result of a malfunctioning filter, pool pump, or latch, resulting in unintentional injury death

Malfunctioning gates and fences – A broken gate lock or hole in the fence safeguarding pool disregards drowning prevention laws, creating unprotected egress to the water, and increasing the potential risk of an inexperienced swimmer drowning.

Entrapment – Improperly installed, defective, unmaintained, or malfunctioning pool drains can entrap swimmers, especially younger swimmers, holding their heads underwater.

Defective hot tubs – Any design or manufacturing defect in the therapeutic hot tub or spa could create a dangerous scenario that leads to drowning.

Reckless behavior – The aggressive or reckless behavior of any individual operating watercraft, including motorboats, speedboats, jet skis, and PWC (personal watercraft), could cause severe injury or death to them or others.

Inadequate posted warning signs – The proper warning signs of dangerous conditions should be posted at every swimming pool, community pool, or natural shoreline that lists rules to follow and hazards to avoid to prevent unintentional injury and death.

The Common Warning Signs Someone is Drowning

The CDC gathers data on drownings occurring at the beach, lakefront, community pools, and backyard pools where the event resulted in death, required resuscitation, necessitated medical attention, or was caused by the victim’s illness.

Nearly all drowning deaths are preventable if swimmers, lifeguards, and others in charge of supervision, follow the rules of safe swimming and know how to save a life when tragedy occurs. While most swimmers believe that they can wave their hand when needing help. The process of drowning often does not allow sufficient time to let others know that they need help due to their distress.

Most drowning victims needed to be rescued within the first 20 to 40 seconds while their bodies remained upright and their heads above the water. Three common types of unintentional injury-related death events include:

  • The distressed swimmer who is panicking or anxious in the water, struggling to keep their head above the surface, will yell for help, waive, or splash the water.
  • The passively unconscious drowning victim will have their body and head below the water surface and are likely not breathing.
  • The active drowning victim will struggle to stay above the water’s surface and may flap their arms and throw their face upward while leaning their head back to breathe

The Cost of Fatal and Non-Fatal Drowning

The cost of fatal drownings represents a significant source of health burden in the United States, highlighting the need for preventative measures that eliminate the risk of drowning deaths. These costs could include:

Insurance companies paying the medical costs for young near-drowning victims spend over $8000 for inpatient care, followed by over $250,000 annually if the swimming accident survivor requires long-term care.

Irreversible, severe brain damage caused by a near-drowning accident could cause $5.5 million or more in lost wages, the cost of medical treatment, and the loss of the victim’s quality of life

Drowning: When Negligence is Involved

Property owners are legally responsible for providing a safe environment for every visitor and invitee, including those swimming in a community, neighborhood, or backyard pool. Any victim of a near-drowning event or surviving family member who lost a loved one to drowning through the negligence of others has a legal right to file a compensation case.

An attorney working on behalf of the plaintiff can build a case on premises liability laws that holds property owners and management legally responsible when accidents occur.

Potential defendants could include a homeowner with a backyard pool, recreation or fitness center, hotel, school, community center, YMCA, youth summer camps, and others that owned the pool and are in charge of pool operations.

However, winning a case requires proving negligence was involved in fatal or near-fatal drownings by:

  • Failing to identify and repair any tripping hazard
  • Failing to post warning signs of any potential hazards
  • Not having safety equipment, including life jackets, available
  • Failing to ensure lifeguards are on duty at community, neighborhood, and public pools
  • Not enclosing and securing the pool by installing fencing, and gates with locks
  • Failing to secure the pool during the off-season with locked gates and pool covers

The victim’s legal status is crucial to successfully resolving a pool drowning claim where the drowning individual was on the property as a guest, a family member, an invitee, or an employee when the accident happened.

Don’t Be a Statistic. Hire an Attorney to Handle Your Drowning Compensation Claim

Are you harmed in a near-fatal drowning accident, or did you lose a loved one by someone else’s negligence? If so, you are likely entitled to receive compensation if you file a claim or lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires.

Contact the drowning accident attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) today or through the contact form to schedule a free consultation. Let our legal team investigate your claim and calculate the value of your case.

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