As the summer season approaches, so does a new set of safety challenges.
From navigating crowded pools to beaches and resort getaways, cooling off with a swim is a time-honored summer tradition — but these things also present a number of safety risk factors that both members of the public, and those tasked with protecting them, such as lifeguards, must be prepared for.
And, the scary reality is, Cavanagh Law Group has seen the consequences of these potential dangers firsthand.
In January, Cavanagh Law Group filed a personal injury lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of Jaclynn Powell, a mother who took her toddler daughter for a swim lesson at a Crystal Lake YMCA.
During the lesson and while “in full view of the swim instructor and lifeguards,” Powell’s daughter became submerged underwater and remained there for between 40-50 seconds, unbeknownst to the lifeguards and instructor tasked with supervising her.
Because the YMCA failed to notice the little girl submerged underwater, failed to provide immediate assistance, failed to properly provide lifeguard stations that were totally free from unobstructed views and failed to pull the girl from pool when the facility should have known that she was in distress, which resulted in injury, our lawsuit claims negligence on behalf of the YMCA.
Our client was lucky to have survived, but the young girl sustained injuries which required medical treatment, and the entire disturbing event was captured on video surveillance.
It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, and, unfortunately, it’s not the first time swimmers have sustained serious injuries as a result of negligent lifeguards or inadequate action.
In June 2017, Cavanagh Law Group filed another lawsuit against a Niles, IL YMCA location on behalf of a family whose father nearly drown in the facility’s pool.
Video footage from the YMCA’s pool showed a 61-year-old man swimming laps before suffering a heart attack while in chest-deep water, only about 10 yards away from two lifeguards. The father, Yosef Bornstein, went under the water for five minutes and was only noticed when other swimmers in nearby lanes saw him underwater and alerted the lifeguard sitting nearby.
It’s a terrifying scenario that no family or community should have to fear or endure. And, unfortunately, the circumstances that led to Mr. Bornstein’s near drowning were completely preventable as well.
Two nearby lifeguards were chatting with each other and not paying attention, failing to scan the pool for distress. Thus, they not only failed to catch Mr. Bornstein initially going under the water but also failed to subsequently rescue him in a timely fashion. Only after other swimmers saw Mr. Bornstein in the water and notified lifeguards did the lifeguards act.
Additionally, our lawsuit alleges that the YMCA failed to provide lifeguard stations that provided clear, unobstructed views of the pool and that lifeguards on duty failed to pull him from the water, “when they knew or should have known that he was in distress and underwater.”
“Did the YMCA did not have the proper protocols and training in place, or were the lifeguards properly trained and just not doing their job that day?" said Cavanagh Law Group attorney Tim Cavanagh.
Today, Mr. Bornstein is working on a long road to recovery from brain injuries sustained as a result of the accident.
While the pool or beach is a great place for a recreational swim or workout, there are also telltale signs members of the public must watch for to ensure safety protocols are being followed.
Where are the lifeguards? Can you see them? Lifeguards should be in plain view, stationed in easily visible, elevated stands, or doing proactive scans by foot or some other mode.
Are lifeguards easily identifiable, or are they wearing attire that obscures the fact they are lifeguards? Lifeguards typically must wear a swimsuit, jacket, t-shirt, or another article of clothing that clearly identifies them as a lifeguard on-duty. Typical markers of these uniform pieces usually include a cross, bright, two-tone colors and the word “LIFEGUARD” in large letters. Lifeguards should not be wearing clothing that would make them difficult to stand out from the crowd or hinder their ability to act.
Do lifeguards appear attentive, or distracted? In Mr. Bornstein’s case, the lifeguards on duty, although in close proximity to Mr. Bornstein, were distracted by talking to each other and therefore failed to scan the pool, observe Mr. Bornstein going underwater, or rescue him until an excess of five minutes had already passed. Lifeguards should be continuously monitoring swimmers and free from any distractions, such as peers, cell phones, books, and magazines, or anything else that could divert their attention.
Does it look right? Does it feel right? Use your common sense to see if something feels off about the situation. If so, say something.
If pool or beach-goers are met with any of the above circumstances, it’s important they’re not afraid to speak up. Talk to the lifeguard directly, or ask to speak with a supervisor on duty. Lifeguards are trained on specific safety protocols and standards that they must adhere to — the safety of the public depends on it.