Analyzing A Drowning Case – Lifeguard Negligence

As a professional company serving the Southern California region, our command staff spend a great deal of time analyzing drowning cases involving lifeguard negligence. We recently spent some time discussing and evaluating a case that occurred in the city of Waterbury, CT in June of 2008. This incident occurred at the Waterbury Boys & Girls Club. This case illustrates that this is not an isolated incident and this type of case is happening more & more frequently throughout the United States.

Here we will be using a case that was covered by a local paper and other documents we have received,

Attorney Kathleen Nastri of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder said that Retemar Robinson registered her 5-year-old daughter, Brianna Murray, and her 7-year-old son, Darnelle Richards, in an after-school program at the Waterbury Boys & Girls Club that included swimming in the club’s indoor pool.

At 4 p.m. on June 9, 2008, 32 young children got into the pool. There was just one lifeguard, Amanda Golymbieski, 20, a Red Cross certified lifeguard who previously worked at a local YMCA. She had six months of experience at the Boys & Girls Club at the time.

Two things struck us as as we read this. First of all the ratio of lifeguards to swimmers is 25:1. Meaning 1 lifeguard per 20 to 25 swimmers is an industry standard and recommended by American Red Cross. The second item right off the bat is the lifeguard only had 6 months of experience.

That day, Nastri said, Golymbieski was wearing capri pants, a T-shirt and sandals; was doing paperwork while watching the children; and drinking a Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee. Instead of being perched in the elevated lifeguard chair above the pool, she sat in a low plastic chair on the deck, toward the center divider between the shallow and deep ends.

The lifeguard Amanda Golymbieski was not wearing a proper lifeguard uniform on the deck, was doing paperwork and drinking iced coffee. She was also not in her assigned lifeguard chair that is elevated. As we reviewed this, we surmised that the lifeguard was not equipped with a rescue tube as is required on the job. She was obviously not interested in the job as displayed by her actions. Since she was the only lifeguard on the deck, she should have realized that focusing on paperwork was probably not a good idea.

Our lifeguards are required to walk the deck. They are prohibited from sitting in a chair while in active lifeguard mode.

Nastri said that Murray was under 4 feet tall and did not know how to swim. The non-swimmers had been told they should stay in the shallow end. Nevertheless, when Murray became submerged in the pool, another little girl noticed and told Murray’s 7-year-old brother. “Imagine being 7, he didn’t know what to do,” said Nastri.

Nastri said the boy spent several minutes trying to pull his sister out of the water, but she was too heavy. So he got out of the pool, ran around to the other side, and asked the lifeguard for help. The plaintiffs claimed the lifeguard told the boy to pull his sister toward the side of the pool where the lifeguard was sitting. The lifeguard then walked to the poolside and lifted the girl out of the water.

The lifeguard obviously did not want to enter the water and seemed to be bothered. As a lifeguard, how could she ask a young boy to do the job of lifeguard by asking him to pull the drowning victim to the side of the pool where she was at? Her actions seemed to indicate that she did not see the urgency of the situation.

The lifeguard then left the pool area while Murray’s body lay on the deck “surrounded by kids not knowing what was going on,” said Nastri. The lifeguard came back with some of the club’s staff members.

“There were limited attempts at some CPR,” the attorney said.

Nastri said it is important to compress the chest of those who have been submerged in water to get oxygen into their lungs. She said proper resuscitation efforts should have involved two rescue breaths, then 15 quick compressions. That process gets repeated, quickly, so the victim gets 100 chest compressions in one minute.

But there were no chest compressions for 11 minutes, until paramedics arrived and took over resuscitation efforts.

The lifeguard proved negligent in this case by walking away from the victim and leaving her for some time while trying to get help. In this case she should have started CPR and ordered someone to get others for help. 911 should have been activated right away but was delayed!

It takes 4 to 6 minutes for brain death to occur without immediate intervention which was delayed by the lifeguard. The fact that it took up to 11 minutes for intervention because the lifeguard was ill prepared was as bad as it gets!

Murray was then taken to Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, where she regained a pulse. She was then transferred to Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, where she was pronounced brain dead the next day. Her mother then decided to take her off life support and donate the girl’s organs. She passed away on June 11.

“There was a lot that went wrong,” said Nastri. “One of the things that’s so interesting to me is that none of the things they did wrong would have cost them any money to do better, except hiring another lifeguard. Things like sitting in the lifeguard chair, knowing how to do CPR … There were a lot of systemic failures by the club.”

Nastri said the pool should have had a special mask used in the CPR process. This prevents direct mouth-to-mouth contact, which is important in potential drowning cases where foam from the victim’s mouth, blood and vomit can interfere with resuscitation efforts.

What occurred here at this particular Boys & Girls Club is very common in that many of these facilities in an effort to save money will only allocate just enough to staff a pool with one lifeguard when in fact several are needed for open swim times. Often times they will pay their lifeguard minimum wage, never screen them or skills test them. The results are systemic failures across the board.

Lifeguards should be proficient at scanning and surveillance of the pool, should know CPR and basically be focused on the job of lifeguarding. It is obvious that Golymbieski was not!

In preparation for trial, the plaintiffs lawyers deposed the lifeguard, who also testified at trial. Bloss cross-examined her and caught contradictions in her testimony by replaying for jurors her prior videotaped deposition.

For instance, during the deposition, the lifeguard said there were 32 children in the pool, which combined with the fact there was only one lifeguard, was a clear Red Cross violation. However, at trial, the lifeguard said there was only about 18 or 19 children in the pool at any one time. The plaintiffs attorneys then played the tape from the deposition, which revealed the conflicting testimony.

The failures by the lifeguard and the club led to a $12.3 million judgment to the plaintiff in the case. It was a pretty clear cut case of negligence and a host of other items.

Many facilities face the prospect of being dragged into court over drownings caused by lifeguard negligence. Our advice is many of these facilities better raise the bar, start allocating more money for their aquatics facilities and they better start screening their guards with a fine tooth comb. There have been numerous stories this summer of lifeguards who through their inexperience have led to preventable drownings. It is such a tragedy!

This will not be the first blog or the last blog detailing lifeguard negligence.

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