South Carolina is home to an array of freshwater lakes that attract locals and tourists alike. People love swimming, fishing, boating, and participating in other water activities. Unfortunately, the risk of drowning is always present. Even with proper precautions, victims can suffer near-drowning injuries or tragic drowning deaths.
It is devastating when a loved one is seriously injured or, God forbid, is killed in an accident. In tragic times like these, a South Carolina personal injury and wrongful death lawyer can provide valuable guidance and support. At Pracht Injury Lawyers, we can help determine who is legally responsible and whether you can pursue compensation for your loss. We will explain all of your options so you can make an informed decision about taking legal action.
What to Do If a Loved One Drowns in a Lake
Even when you take every step to protect your family on the lake, accidents can still happen. You may be confused about what to do after a tragic lake accident. If possible, designate a friend or family member to take these basic steps on your behalf following a drowning or near-drowning:
- Contact emergency services. If you are at the scene of the lake drowning, call 911 immediately and ask for help.
- Ensure safety. Get everyone out of the water if possible. Wait for emergency personnel to arrive for further instructions.
- Allow trained professionals to work. Let the lifeguards and emergency responders handle the rescue and recovery efforts. They have the equipment and experience to handle the situation.
- Gather information. Try to get as much information as possible about the incident. Get the contact information of lifeguards, employees, and eyewitnesses. Request copies of official reports. Take photos of the scene, including any relevant signage. Take note of the lake status and weather conditions.
- Collect other evidence. Retrieve copies of relevant contracts, receipts, and other documents. Get the incident report, if available. Gather proof of any medical treatment, like an ambulance ride or emergency helicopter.
- Talk to a lawyer. This can be a very stressful and overwhelming time. An experienced attorney can help guide you through the process. Provide them with all the evidence you’ve collected. A lawyer can also advise how to proceed with a civil lawsuit if relevant.
Common Causes of Lake Drownings
The causes of lake drownings are similar to the causes of drowning accidents at beaches in South Carolina. A person may drown when swimming, boating, water-skiing, jet-skiing, or participating in other water activities. Drowning accidents may be more common in lakes than swimming pools because lake recreation areas are typically less well-supervised. This can lead to near-drowning injuries and drowning deaths.
Causes of lake drownings may include:
- Inadequate signage. Some lake areas may not be suitable for swimming, and restricted areas nat bit be adequately marked.
- Lack of lifeguards. Many public lakes do not have lifeguards on duty. Even where there are lifeguards, they may be distracted or inadequately trained.
- Lack of supervision or oversight. Negligent camp counselors may not be keeping a close watch on the children.
- Lack of swimming ability. A person may fall out of a boat or off a watercraft and be unable to swim to safety.
- Lack of flotation devices. A non-swimmer may fall into the water or be pulled into deeper water without a life jacket.
- Other people’s watercraft. Boats, jet skis, and other personal watercraft may get too close to swimmers. wakes from these vessels can pull swimmers underwater. Watercraft can also collide with one another.
- Lack of visibility. When popular lake areas get crowded, especially in the summer, it can be hard to notice when someone is in distress. By the time someone notices, it may already be too late.
- Faulty equipment. A malfunction on the boat or other watercraft can lead to lake drownings. A lack of proper maintenance on a boat can cause accidents too.
- Remote location. The more remote setting of some lakes may mean a lack of cellphone coverage. It can also mean that emergency personnel can take longer to get there. During that time, the drowning victim may pass away.
- Reckless or dangerous behavior. Consumption of drugs or alcohol can contribute to accidents, as can dangerous behavior. Unknowingly jumping into shallow water and hitting one’s head can render someone unconscious and unable to swim to safety.
About Lakes in South Carolina
The reality is that as popular as South Carolina lakes can be, drowning deaths are also far too common. Before heading out for a day on the lake, it’s valuable to read up on lake-specific information.
Lake Jocassee is a 7,500-acre reservoir built in 1973 for generating hydroelectric power. Most of the property around the lake is owned by the state of South Carolina and Duke Power. Devil’s Fork State Park is at the southern end of the lake. The deepest part of the lake is 1,100 feet, with an average depth of 158 feet. Lake Jocassee is a popular spot for boating, bass and trout fishing, and scuba diving.
There are hazardous areas around the lake. Whirlpools can form near the Bad Creek Hydro Station, causing boats to spin. Large amounts of water are regularly expelled from the Bad Creek Reservoir. These hazards can lead to potential boating accidents and drowning deaths.
Lake Hartwell was formed with the construction of the Hartwell Dam from 1955 to 1962. The Hartwell Dam is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 1968, the 56,000-acre lake opened to recreational activities like boating and fishing. Anglers flock here to catch striped bass, largemouth bass, crappie, and bream.
The lake has a maximum depth of 185 feet and sees nine million visitors every year. There are dozens of public boat ramps around the lake’s shore, as well as thousands of private boat docks. The Lake Hartwell area also has hundreds of campsites, including many lakeside spots.
A popular spot for swimming, boating, water skiing, and wakeboarding, Lake Keowee has an average depth of 54 feet. The man-made reservoir serves the needs of Duke Energy, which is responsible for the lake and much of its shoreline, including docks and walls. This may include some of the sandy swimming beaches too.
While the utility company allows swimming and boating in Lake Keowee, people do so at their own risk. The lake is not staffed with lifeguards. Swimming is not allowed at boat ramp sites for safety reasons. People may also use natural rock formations to jump into the lake, but they do so at their own risk.
Who Is Legally Liable for Lake Drownings?
Identifying potential defendants in a lake drowning case can be complicated. When there are drowning accidents at South Carolina resorts, the hotel might be held responsible. Property owners can be liable for drownings in private pools. With lake accidents, it may not be as clear.
Legal liability depends on establishing negligence leading to the drowning accident. It depends on the specific circumstances of the situation. Possible liable parties may include:
- Government agencies responsible for maintaining public lakes and infrastructure
- Utility companies responsible for reservoirs
- Private individuals who cause accidents with their personal watercraft
- Boat owners or drivers who are negligent in the boat’s operation
- Rental companies that may have faulty or poorly maintained equipment
- Camp owners and camp counselors who are held negligent in supervising children
- Negligent or distracted lifeguards who failed to fulfill their duties
How a Personal Injury Attorney Can Help You
Managing the aftermath of a lake drowning is a complex manner. Understanding your legal rights to compensation can be confusing too. An experienced lawyer can help explain the local laws relevant to your case. They can investigate the situation, identify the defendants, and help you get the justice you and your loved ones deserve.
Examples of possible damages include loss of consortium, medical bills, loss of expected income, property damage, and funeral costs. You may also be able to seek compensation for pain and suffering and punitive damages. A skilled attorney can outline your options and advise you through this difficult time.