Family sues YMCA in girl's drowning


Each year, approximately 1,500 children drown in the U.S. As we all know, a drowning can occur nearly anywhere. Yet, the natural inclination is to believe that one will not happen in our own community, especially at our own JCC. Awareness of the threat's reality is critical. Reinforcing proven prevention strategies is an essential element in protecting the kids in our programs. Both are the goals for our “Aquatic Alert” program. Each is a brief treatment of the topic, focussing on a real, recent, public event… reprinting the published article in its entirety (omitting only direct references to the individual organization) and providing a few important teaching points for you to share with your staff.

On November 16, 2001, this news article appeared in a major southwestern newspaper:

“Family sues YMCA in girl's drowning”

By: L. Anne Newell

“The family of a 7-year-old girl who drowned at a YMCA pool in October filed a lawsuit against the organization on Thursday, alleging negligence and carelessness caused the death of [victim].

The lawsuit, filed for [victim]'s parents, [father] and [mother], says the girl was under water at least eight minutes directly in front of the lifeguard's elevated chair at the YMCA on [street address].

[Attorney 1], who with [attorney 2] represents the family, said lab tests show [victim] may have been under water as long as 20 minutes on Oct. 26.

She was unconscious when she was pulled from the pool and never woke. She was on life support equipment at University Medical Center for eight hours and died 10 hours after her family decided to remove the equipment, the lawsuit says.

[YMCA spokeswoman] and [attorney 3], an attorney for the office representing the YMCA, declined comment.

[YMCA Spokeswoman] said the 18-year-old lifeguard on duty when the drowning occurred was put on leave after the incident. [YMCA Spokeswoman] said she would remain on leave until an investigation of the drowning is completed.

[Victim] was one of nine children at the pool, [attorney 3] said. The kids were part of a YMCA after-school program that normally took place at their school, [name] Elementary, but was at the YMCA that day because of staffing shortages.

[Victim] could not swim and her parents did not know she would be in a pool that is 6 feet deep, [attorney 1] said. No flotation devices were provided for [victim].

The lawsuit asks the YMCA to reimburse funeral and medical expenses as well as compensate the family for the loss. It also asks that the YMCA be assessed a civil fine.”

What this article teaches us is:

  • Fact: A child who could not swim was allowed in six feet of water.

    • All children should be tested, marked and protected before being allowed access to the pool.
  • Fact: A new group had entered the organization’s pool due to a staffing shortage at the victim’s school.

    • “Stuff” happens when there is a change in plan or routine; the organization’s facility should have been on extra alert.
  • Fact: The drowning occurred at the guard’s feet and the victim was underwater for 6+ minutes.

    • Improper scanning appears to be a major factor in the incident. The lifeguard should evaluate every portion of the entire pool area that is under his or her supervision every 10 seconds… above the water, below the water, and on the pool bottom.
  • Fact: The organization commented on the suspension of the guard but made no further comment to the media.

    • Responding to media questions is difficult, but “no comment” makes it appear that the organization lacks care and concern for the victim and family.

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at to learn more about JCC risk management issues.


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