As heat waves roll across the Midwest, countless Missourians head to rivers and lakes for a day of summer swimming. While these trips seem harmless, they can quickly turn into a tragedy if proper precautions are not taken. In 2021, approximately 61 people drowned across Missouri — sparking the need for more conversations around safety-first swimming and when you should turn to a Missouri personal injury attorney for legal counsel.
A Summer Swimming Tragedy
Just last month, an 18-year-old St. James resident was swimming in the Meramec River when he was swept under the water by the current — drowning before help could arrive. Sadly, stories like these hit the headlines every summer. No matter how strong of a swimmer you are, caution is always advised before you enter a body of water.
The Meramec River is a popular destination for summer swimming and other recreational activities, but it is also unpredictable. The river is often deceptively calm on the surface, while strong currents develop in the blink of an eye — combine that with flash floods, deep holes and no lifeguards on duty, the river is a hazardous location for even the most experienced swimmers.
The Hazards of Swimming in Rivers and Lakes
Any Missouri personal injury attorney can tell you that all bodies of water each host hazards to consider when practicing safety-first swimming. A river could be considered the most dangerous place to swim, especially after heavy rains and flooding. In addition to swift-moving currents and eddies, debris often lies just under the surface. Swimmers can get sucked into an eddy and then get caught on submerged logs and boulders. The force of the current makes it nearly impossible to extract yourself from the water.
Summer swimming in lakes is another story. While the water is typically calm, swimmers may face other hazards. While the risk of drowning in deep water is still high, swimmers may also face illnesses from the pollutants and bacteria often found in the water.
It is important to remember that swimming in a river or lake differs from swimming in a pool. Our Missouri personal injury attorneys urge all individuals to practice safety-first swimming by taking extra precautions and being very diligent about wearing life jackets — even if you know how to swim. Even the best swimmer can get swept off their feet and pulled into a treacherous current if it is too strong.
Liability in the Event of a Drowning
In the event of a drowning, a lawsuit is only viable when the incident was directly caused by the negligence of another. A wrongful death lawsuit may be viable if the drowning was the result of:
- Government negligence. Governmental agencies are responsible for upkeep and maintenance of state parks. Government officials must minimize some risks of summer swimming through proper signage and eliminate other hazards by keeping wildlife in check.
- Negligent lifeguards or camp counselors. Families may have a case against people who were supposed to supervise activities near the water if they failed to perform proper safety measures. A Missouri personal injury attorney may be able to prove negligence on the part of the lifeguard or camp counselor — otherwise, the employer could be at fault for improper training.
- Boats. Boat drivers may drive too close to a swimmer, causing the current to pull the swimmer underneath the water. Boats may also have defects that could cause them to sink or crash.
The American Red Cross issues safety tips for enjoying rivers, streams and lakes each summer — we urge you to read their top tips before you take to water and encourage you to promote safety-first swimming to your family and friends as well.
In the event of a drowning, Casey, Devoti & Brockland is here to offer legal counsel to affected families. As a St. Louis-based personal injury law firm, we offer decades of trial experience handling a variety of personal injury matters. If you or a loved one have been injured by the negligence of another, contact a Missouri personal injury attorney today for a free consultation.