Summer is a time for outdoor fun. Boating, swimming, hiking and camping are among the activities we associate with summertime. But these activities are also fraught with hidden danger. Every year, many lives are ruined by diving accidents – in particular, by spinal cord injuries including paralysis and death caused by diving into shallow water. These accidents are always tragic. But they are also often preventable, as explained by our Chicago brain injury lawyers, through the caution of the diver and through proper precautions by property owners and others.
Diving accidents often strike young people, particularly children, who are more prone to take risks and fail to understand the consequences. Each year in the United States, around 6,000 Americans under the age of 14 suffer a diving accident severe enough to require hospitalization. Of those, a heartbreaking one in five suffer severe and permanent spinal cord damage.
But the recklessness of the young is not all that is to blame for catastrophic diving injuries. Often simple precautions by adult landowners and governmental authorities could prevent the destruction of these young lives. When landowners or authorities are aware that water is unsuitable for diving, they may have an obligation to warn others of the shallow depth of the water. This is particularly true when they allow swimmers and boaters to use the water, but still fail to warn them that the water is shallow. This failure to warn may amount to actionable negligence. Those injured by diving accidents should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer who can help evaluate the circumstances surrounding the accident, and determine if they have a cause of action.
Even when water is deep enough to prevent divers from hitting the bottom, spinal injury can occur. Dr. Shawn Hervey-Jumper, a resident at the University of Michigan’s Department of Neurosurgery, has stated that if a diver hits the water improperly, the surface tension of the water can be enough to cause spinal injury. Perhaps this is because of the nature of the spinal cord. The spinal cord — which is responsible for transmitting movement signals from the brain to the muscles throughout the body — has a consistency that is similar to firm jello.
Spinal cord injuries are among the most debilitating injuries that can occur. Severe spinal injuries lead to paralysis, including quadriplegia and paraplegia, which affects the body differently depending on the point at which the spinal cord injury occurs (with paralysis extending below point of injury). Spinal injuries are also particularly problematic because they cannot be completely repaired. The spinal column, once injured, is permanently damaged. Although surgery and other treatment may help, the spinal cord will never be the same.
That is why the University of Michigan’s Department of Neurosurgery has prepared an educational video, titled “Shattered Dreams,” that highlights this very real danger. The video was also adapted into several public service announcements, which began playing in Michigan movie theaters on June 4.
The movie features two men injured by diving accidents. The first, Matt Kerry, was an athletic young man recruited for a football scholarship. He dove off a boat into three feet of water, and was paralyzed. He is now unable to perform simple activities for himself, including feeding and dressing himself. The second, Josh Weber, was a golfer, swimmer, and carpenter before his own diving accident. He, too, is paralyzed, unable to get out of bed or a chair.
The University of Michigan campaign encourages boaters and swimmers to jump “feet first” to avoid diving accidents and severe spinal injuries. Our top Chicago brain injury lawyers add our voice to that encouragement, and also urge landowners and park districts to properly warn potential boaters and swimmers of shallow water.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.