Deaths of teen & 11-year-old are harsh reminders that waterways have electrocution hazards both seen & hidden. Tips on how to prevent electric shock drownings
Two recent news reports about electric shock drownings are a sad reminder that the same hidden dangers of electrocution that exist with our swimming pools, saunas or hot tubs, can also be present in our lakes and even other large bodies of water.
How can the risk of an electric shock drowning apply to lakes and large water bodies? They can happen when a current stemming from a short in the wiring of a dock, marina or boat spreads through the water. And if someone is in the water and the shock is strong enough, lake electricity can easily cause a person to drown.
The one constant variable that I have found to be present in so many of the electrocution and electric shock lawsuits that I have litigated over the past three decades also applies here with electric shock drownings: someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Electricity takes over from there.
That’s exactly what happened to Evan Currie, a 19-year-old who was electrocuted in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, by a current near his family’s 33-foot-long power boat in western Lake Erie.
The boat had just been plugged in for shore power when Currie’s dog fell into the water. Currie’s father jumped in to save the dog but immediately began struggling against an undetected electrical current running through the water.
The father managed to get back onto the boat after the shore power was unplugged, but Currie did not.
Then there’s the sad case of Kayla Matos, 11.
She and two friends were using an inflatable raft and swimming in a lagoon in Toms River, New Jersey. Two of the girls touched the rail of a metal boat lift, causing a surge that injured one but electrocuted Kayla.
These two incidents come a year after another tragic electric shock drowning death.
In April 2016, Carmen Johnson, a 15-year-old Alabama girl, died in after coming into contact with currents from rusty electrical work at the dock in her family’s backyard.
In my own work as an electrocution attorney, I’ve investigated cases involving electric shock drownings in both natural and man-made lakes. Each death has a confluence of events that comes together when someone is present in the zone of danger. Some of these events are predictable and some unpredictable. This gets us back to the random coincidence of a person just being in the wrong place at the wrong time for an electric shock drowning to occur.
Staying on the safe side to stop electric shock drownings
These electric shock drownings happened because, as mentioned, large bodies of water have the same potential for electrocution as smaller ones.
Several states are calling for circuit breakers to be installed near water, which are the best safety devices to prevent electrocution.
Marina Dock Master Jim Picuri at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia said he makes sure no one is in harm’s way of electrocution:
“We don’t allow anybody in the water. [You] can’t sit on the dock dangling your feet. We don’t allow jet skis [because] they create wakes and splash up,” creating a potential hazard.
How to prevent electric shock drownings in lakes
If you happen to be the one who’s the dock owner, here’s how to prevent electric shock drownings in your lake this summer:
- Use a carbon fiber ladder instead of a metal ladder.
- Have your docking wires inspected each year by a professional.
- Educate your neighbors on where your power cutoffs are located, and be familiar with them yourself.
What to do if someone is being shocked while swimming in the lake
If you’re at a dock and you suspect someone is being shocked while swimming in a lake, here’s what you need to know:
- Storms and constantly moving water can quickly create faulty wiring on boat docks.
- Even if your dock is fine, it’s possible that electric current from a neighboring dock can travel to ground at yours.
- If someone is being electrocuted in the lake, do not jump in and attempt to save that person.
- Swim away from the dock, ladder, or anything that could be the source of the electricity.
- Call 9-1-1.