As summer approaches, many families will be heading to the pool, oceans and lakes to enjoy the cool water to escape the summer heat. Although pools, oceans and lakes are havens to enjoy favorite summer pastimes including swimming, boating and jet skiing; they can also be dangerous bodies of water in which people drown or sustain serious injuries. Tragically, from 2005-2014 there were 3,456 fatal unintentional drownings in the United States each year.
What many people may not be aware of is the prevalence of injuries sustained from diving. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, an estimated 11,000 spinal cord injuries occur every year. These injuries result in paralysis, and/or traumatic brain injury. 90% of diving victims who hit their head on the bottom became quadriplegic. Among the leading causes of spinal cord injuries, diving ranked 4th for males and 5th for females. In one study of persons enrolled in the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center database, 57% of the injuries occurred when diving in less than 4 feet of water and 38% occurred at depths between 4 and 8 feet.
Under New York law, diving head first into a pool is not an intended use of pools and not a foreseeable use to manufacturers, retailers and landowners. However, if it can be shown that the defendant was negligent you may be able to recover for your injuries.
In what has become a frequently cited case in New York, Cynthia Fichera, a partner of Spiegel, Brown and Fichera, LLP, litigated on behalf of one of the plaintiffs in the matter of Kriz v. Schum before the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, 75 NY2d 25 (1989). In that case, in which the court decided two cases at once, Mrs. Fichera argued on behalf of a young woman who dove off of a slide into a pool and struck her head on the bottom rendering her a quadriplegic. The young woman did not see her friends dive into the pool and was not aware of the pool depth when she dove into the shallow end. The court found in favor of Mrs. Fichera’s client on the basis that it was foreseeable that she would dive off of the slide and that the defendants’ failure to advise of her of the pool depth contributed to her accident.
Denkensohn v. Aquaslide and Dive, 914 F2d 262 (9th Cir. 1990), (a separate action filed in federal court) also held the slide manufacturer liable for failing to include adequate instructions and warnings with the slide.
The courts have consistently held that property owners have a duty to warn possible users of a lake or a pool of its depth. In a 2011 case, the New York Court of Appeals held that the State, as a property owner, was under the duty to warn possible users of a lake where there was spillway caused the water depth to fluctuate between 3 and 10 feet. However, in that case the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim because there was overwhelming evidence that the plaintiff was familiar with the area and had specific knowledge that the water depth varied and could be extremely shallow. The court followed the general rule that when plaintiff’s actions are the sole proximate cause of an accident, the case should be dismissed.
This summer, as you and your family head to the pools, oceans and lakes, be conscious of the dangers of diving and potential for shallow water. Taking these precautions into consideration may prevent a lifetime of disability. In the event of an accident keep in mind that over the years the law firm of Spiegel, Brown and Fichera, LLP has obtained successful recoveries of millions of dollars on behalf of plaintiffs injured in diving accidents and have the knowledge to help you get compensation for your injuries.