In Pierce County, on July 13, 2004, a two-year-old boy went outside, crossed the street, walked through a backyard and drowned in Lake Tapps. He was found drowned a couple hours later. The family sued the state, employees of the daycare and the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) for gross negligence. After a three week trial, and two hours of deliberation, the jury awarded the family, the Estate of Gabriel Tobin, and the attorney, 11.7M dollars. The plaintiff argued that the day care should not have been licensed if it didn’t have a fence to prevent children from accessing the lake. Furthermore, the DSHS rules require a fence and the agency’s inspectors issued the facility a license on two occasions despite the absence of a fence.
On the day of the tragedy, allegedly Lisa Fish was tending to an altercation between some of the children when Gabriel left through the daycare doors. According to news stories, the jurors held the state responsible for 81% of the judgment and the Fish family responsible for 19%.
Supervision is a key factor in the prevention of injury. The environment should be child-proofed. As children grow from infancy through toddlerhood, parents should evaluate the environment for safety as the child develops new skills. Children should play in fenced areas with the supervision of adults. Toddlers should never be left unattended. Lock doors and windows so children cannot go through them. And use safety gates to prevent falls down stairways and prevent unsupervised climbing up the stairs.
Toddlers are at the highest risk of drowning across the lifespan. They do not have the developmental ability to swim, nor can they keep their heads above water, or know how to get out of water. Young children can drown in very shallow water, including pails of liquid, toilets, bathtubs and baby pools. Drowning is the second leading cause of deaths related to injuries after motor vehicle accidents. According to the CDC, children between the ages of one and four years of age are more likely to drown in swimming pools and hot tubs. Mortality rates secondary to drowning are three times higher for males. Approximately 78% of drowning victims are male. Unlike adults, young children do not call out for help while in distress, they generally drown silently. Near-drowning accidents can result in permanent brain damage. For every child that drowns there are approximately five near-drowning episodes in children. Drowning is the second highest cause of injury-related deaths in children between the ages of one and nine years old.
Never leave infants or toddlers unsupervised by water. Empty the shallow wading pools and water basins when not in use or under the direct supervision of a responsible adult. Keep lids closed on toilets. Don’t leave your infant by containers of water to answer the phone or get the door. Remember bath seats are not intended to be used as water safety devices. Your infant should not be left in a bath seat without adult supervision. The absence of adult supervision is a prominent feature in the incidence of infant drowning. Leaving infants in bathtubs to be supervised by siblings does not constitute adequate supervision. In fact, there are known cases where siblings placed infants in bathtubs to play, or played rough with infants due to lack of supervision around bath tub water, the infants drowned as a result. Primary providers are responsible for teaching water safety and drowning prevention tips to new parents. And child caregivers are responsible for supervision during water recreation and bath time. Flotation devices are not safety devices.