Drowning is known as a submersion injury and refers to suffocation in a liquid medium. According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)1:

  • Every day there are about ten unintentional drowning deaths and two of these victims are 14 years of age or younger
  • Drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death (other sources rank it second or third)
  • In a four year period study, an average of 3,533 non-boating related drownings occurred each year
  • It is estimated that one out of every five drowning deaths occur to children 14 and younger
  • For every child who dies from drowning, five others receive emergency department care for a drowning incident
  • More than 50% of drowning victims treated in emergency departments require hospitalization or must transfer for additional care; however, only 6% of all other unintentional injury victims require hospitalization
  • In 2010, drowning deaths in 1-4 year olds outnumbered motor vehicle deaths 437 to 343 2
  • In the 1-4 year old category above, boys' drowning outnumbered girls two-to-one – 291 to 146

Factors Influencing Drowning Risk

  • Inability to swim
  • Lack of barriers, such as lack of fencing, unlocked areas, absence of pool covers
  • Lack of qualified and/or attentive supervision including allegedly professional lifeguards and babysitters giving baths or not paying attention to water hazards
  • Failure to wear life jackets and flotation devices – especially for young children
  • Alcohol use – increases risk of drowning and accidents
  • “Shallow water blackout” – occurs when the swimmer hyperventilates in order to remain underwater longer; may lead to loss of consciousness from a lack of oxygen
  • Seizure disorders – “for patients with seizure disorders, drowning is the most common cause of unintentional injury death, with the bathtub as the site of highest drowning risk.” (CDC)

California Drowning and Safety Information

For children up to five years old, in California in 2013:

  • 39 total pool drowning deaths
  • 60 total pool and all other drowning deaths3

California’s public swimming pool statutes regulate pool safety, including anti-entrapment devices and systems. Public pools must equip the drain suction outlets with “specified anti-entrapment gates to prevent physical entrapment of the bathers.” All pools must be brought up to specific safety standards.

The law also requires every new pool to install at least two main drains per pump. They must be “hydraulically balanced and symmetrically plumbed …” Installation of these anti-entrapment devices protect swimmers from being sucked down to the drain. A large number of drownings occurred before these pumps were installed. Pools with the old suction pumps are still in existence and are extremely dangerous.

Health and Other Facts Related to Fatal and Nonfatal Drowning

  • About 80% of drowning fatalities are male
  • Alcohol use is present in up to 70% of water recreation drownings and deaths
  • Weekend drownings were 48% higher than those occurring on weekdays – 13.8 v. 9.3 deaths
  • Bathtub drownings occurred most often for children under 1 and adults 85 and older
  • Swimming pool drownings occurred most frequently in children 1 to 4 years
  • It is possible to drown in one inch of water

Where Do Drownings and Near Drownings Happen?

Drowning accidents can and do occur virtually anywhere there is water, especially with younger children, including:

  • Bathtubs, toilets, buckets – account for more than half of infant drownings
  • Swimming pools - in-ground, above ground and wading pools – 80% of 1 to 4 year olds drowning deaths
  • Oceans, ponds, rivers, lakes, creeks, water inlets, underground streams, waterfalls, etc.
  • Household buckets – commonly causes toddler drowning
  • Rainwater and accumulation tanks – and similar household, farm and property items

Common Results of Nonfatal Drowning Accidents

Nonfatal drowning injuries can result in severe and often permanent life-altering disabilities. Swimming pool and diving board accidents are particularly harmful, especially when the victim’s head and/or spinal column strikes concrete or other hard surface. This may result in orthopedic injuries as well as brain damage from oxygen deprivation. Possible injuries include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Brain injuries – traumatic brain injury, or TBI, may result from blunt force trauma, lack of oxygen, inhalation of water, breath cessation and often results in a coma
  • Irreversible brain damage – after a period of submersion, respiratory cessation or depression
  • Mental impairment – lack of memory, cognition, inability to perform common tasks
  • Physical injuries – fractures, lung disorders, neurological disorders, stroke, heart attack, arrhythmia, electrolyte imbalance,
  • Seizures, cardiovascular, neuromuscular and respiratory problems

If you were injured in a drowning incident caused by the negligence of another party, or if you believe you experienced harm during treatment from a healthcare professional or medical facility, it is advisable to promptly discuss this with an experienced personal injury and medical malpractice attorney. Michels & Lew offers a complimentary, confidential consultation which can be scheduled by calling 310-444-1200.


  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Unintentional Drowning: Get the Facts, 2014
  2. CDC/NCHS, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality
  3. CDPH Vital Statistics Death Statistical Master Files, 2013, Prepared by California Department of Public Health, Safe and Active Communities Branch, April 6, 2015
  4. http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/09-10/bill/asm/ab_1001-1050/ab_1020_bill_20091011_chaptered.pdf