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Electric Shock Drownings: The Hidden Killer

In April of this year, three children were swimming in the pool of their condominium complex in Florida when one child suddenly went limp after coming into contact with the railing by the steps in the shallow end. The child's father rushed into the water to pull her out, only to stop suddenly, then continue his rescue of her. The two other children went limp as well, and their family members rushed to pull them out of the water. In the end, everyone survived the ordeal, but the children were hospitalized for several days. A couple weeks earlier in the same part of Florida, a seven year old boy was swimming in his family's pool when he, too, went limp. Tragically, he was not as lucky as the other three children and died.

These children were victims of electric shock in water, an all too common occurrence in marinas, lakes, rivers and pools. More than 100 cases have been reported in recent years across the country, and because victims' autopsies rarely show signs of electrical trauma, the true number is likely to be higher. Electric Shock Drownings, or ESDs, occur most often due to faulty installation, performance and maintenance of electrical equipment near and/or in the water where swimming takes place. For example, in the condominium pool case, the electric shock was due to an improperly grounded pool pump that malfunctioned and electrified the water in the pool. The children were shocked, but fortunately they were removed from the electricity and treated in time to avoid fatal results. In the case of the seven-year-old boy, the improper installation of a pool light allowed electricity to flow into the water and create what ended up being a lethal electrical current.

Sometimes, the failure to install inexpensive, basic electrical equipment has catastrophic consequences. In August of 2012, a family was swimming in the pool of the Hilton Houston Westchase when an electrical current charged through the pool water. A young man rushed into the pool to save his younger brother and mother, but died of ESD after rescuing them. Upon investigation it was determined that a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) had never been installed, and that the pool had been found to have numerous violations, including operating without a permit.

The following are a few suggestions for avoiding an Electric Shock Drowning:

  • Inspection: make sure equipment is installed correctly and functioning properly
  • Detection: make sure all equipment is protected by GFCIs
  • Correction: remove electrical hazards such as appliances, radios, electrical cords, etc., from around the pool area.
  • If swimming near a marina, be extremely cautious because marinas that dock boats have outlets for boats to plug in to--and therefore electricity to come out of and seep into the water. Marinas should have ground fault protectors to avoid such an occurrence; recently Tennessee enacted legislation making it a requirement of law.

To learn more about ESD, go to the ESD Prevention Association website.

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Thomas Law Firm
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