Can Traumatic Brain Injury be caused by Near-Drowning?

June 2, 2014 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Can Traumatic Brain Injury be caused by Near-Drowning? The kids are happily playing in the pool. Do you think it's okay to run inside to refill your soda? Did you know a child can drown in less than 1 minute and in less than 2 inches of water? If the brain is deprived of oxygen by submersion in the water for more than 4-6 minutes, traumatic brain injury (TBI) is possible and the child may permanently lose basic functioning and require life-long care. It is not a risk worth taking.  According to statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control, more than 50% of drowning victims who are treated in emergency rooms require hospitalization or transfer to another facility for extended care. Florida's children are most at risk, in part because of higher access to home swimming pools.  For children aged 1-4, the unintentional drowning rate is more than 7 per 100,000 people, by far the highest rate of any U.S. state. Traumatic brain injury caused by lack of oxygen can result in long-term dysfunction, even when a child has been resuscitated. Brain cells are extremely delicate and begin to deteriorate after just a few minutes of oxygen deprivation. This disruption can cause memory loss, learning disabilities, and loss of motor functioning, requiring expensive and long-lasting medical interventions. In years gone by, swimmers were taught to signal distress in the water by raising three fingers above the surface. It turns out this is not a reliable predictor of drowning. All parents and caregivers should learn to recognize the signs of “Instinctive Drowning Response” outlined in the U.S. Coast Guard publication, On Scene:
  • Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary, or overlaid, function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
  • Drowning people's mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people's mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
  • Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water's surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
  • Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  • From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people's bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.
Additional signs of drowning outlined in the article include: head low in the water, mouth at water level; head tilted back with mouth open; eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus; eyes closed; hair over forehead or eyes; not using legs; hyperventilating or gasping; trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway; trying to roll over on the back; or appear to be climbing an invisible ladder. The bottom line is, children should not be left unattended near water, whether it is an in ground pool, inflatable kiddie pool, or even a bucket of rainwater. If your home or apartment complex has a swimming pool, be sure that safety features are in place, such as locking gates and alarms. If your child swims elsewhere, make sure that adult supervision will be available at all times and that the host home also has required safety precautions in place. If your child is injured and suffers traumatic brain injury from near-drowning due to negligence by a landlord or neighbor, please call Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA for a case evaluation. We understand the medical nuances of traumatic brain injury and have seen how insurance companies sometimes offer minimal compensation to victims' families. Our traumatic brain injury attorneys have extensive experience counseling such cases throughout the state of Florida and are available for consultation at 727-451-6900. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 727-451-6900


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

Learn More