Australians seem to have water sports in their blood. Whether it’s swimming, surfing, sailing, canoeing or diving - many of our most popular pastimes involve water.
We’re blessed with stunning beaches, natural treasures of our inland lakes, creeks, streams and rivers, and our warm summer climates.
And while these water-based activities revolve around having fun - sadly, there are high risks involved.
We don’t like to think of the possibility of being seriously hurt, or drowning, in a water accident.
But the reality is water presents many dangers to Australian lives. Most people are also poorly informed of their rights and entitlements if an accident was to happen.
In this article we explore the dangers of water and give you important advice on what steps to take if tragedy strikes.
The dark side of Australia’s favourite pastime
The dark side of our nation’s obsession with water is the tragic toll on human life.
The Royal Life Saving Society of Australia (RLSSA) reported 249 deaths in Australian waterways in 2017-18.
Most of these deaths were in rivers, creeks and streams (25%), followed by beaches (19%) and oceans or harbours (16%).
The top three activities resulting in deaths were swimming and recreating (26%), boating (15%) and falls (14%).
Not surprisingly, 42 percent of deaths occurred in the summer months. The great majority of those who lost their lives were males aged 25-44.
The report also estimated there were 551 non-fatal drowning incidents requiring hospitalisation in 2017-18.
Those who survive a drowning incident often suffer from an array of lifelong health impacts, in some cases leading to premature death.
Do your research to stay water safe
It’s so important to realise the dangers of water, regardless of your personal swimming ability.
As the weather heats up and you start planning that lake holiday, surfing trip or Schoolies’ Week adventure, now is the time to inform yourself and be water safe.
The RLSSA website has some useful water safety information with more links for your state or territory.
There are times when no amount of preparedness and water safety can protect us from harm around water.
Many Australians find themselves facing the loss of a loved one or a serious injury through no fault of their own.
Water accidents are usually catastrophic and life-altering
Very often, injuries involving water are catastrophic.
If the person isn’t killed instantly or drowns, they suffer some degree of paralysis or brain damage.
At public pools, we see accidents involving people diving into shallow water where depths were not properly signed.
At lakes or water holes, people are injured or killed when they dive without being sure of depth or submerged rocks.
These injuries leave people in huge financial predicaments in terms of medical and lifestyle treatments, which can include occupational therapy and changes to the home to accommodate disability.
The injured person is also likely to face limited future employment prospects if they’ve suffered a life changing injury such as brain damage or paralysis.
We’ve also seen people suffer serious nervous shock after losing a loved one through a fatal water accident.
Injured people or their loved ones are often left to fend for themselves, unsure of whether they even have a case
When people come to us after a water accident, they tend to be confused and unsure as to whether they actually have any entitlements.
They are often angry or disappointed because they’ve been left to financially fend for themselves after the incident.
Any injury that happened because another party has breached their duty of care towards you; basically where another party did something that they should not have done or failed to do something it ought to have done, and is not related to a motor vehicle or workplace accident, falls under the umbrella of public liability (PL).
If you can show that your injury occurred in a situation where someone else didn’t take the right amount of care, and your injury is of sufficient seriousness, you may be able to claim compensation.
What you may be entitled to with a public liability water injury:
Compensation for pain and suffering, which comprises compensation for loss of enjoyment of life caused by physical injury, psychological injury or both
Past loss of earnings
Loss of future earnings, or loss of earnings if your capacity to work is affected
Past and future medical and related treatment and care expenses
The past and future costs associated with the care you have been provided by loved ones on a voluntary basis (e.g. if a family member gives up their time to provide care and assistance to you while you are incapacitated)
Past and future damages for the loss of capacity to provide voluntary care to dependents (e.g. if your injury prevents you from caring for someone who depends on you).
But remember: timeframes apply for making a claim
It’s important to remember that timeframes do apply for making a claim.
For competent adults - that is, adults whose mental capacity has not been affected by their injury - they have three years from the date of the accident to pursue a claim.
Children and adults who lack capacity, have six years.
So, the best thing to do is to get expert help as soon as the injury happens.
Critical steps to take as soon as possible after a water accident
Start gathering evidence
If you or someone close to you has been involved in a water accident, it’s important that you begin gathering evidence straight away.
The scene or area in which someone was injured could quickly be changed, for example, after a shallow water diving incident, signs are put up. So taking photographs for example can be a good way to gather evidence.
Names and numbers of anyone who witnessed the incident causing injury, or contact details of persons who were simply present at the site where injury takes place could prove invaluable in the furtherance of any potential claim.
Get expert, independent legal advice:
It’s also important to get legal advice as soon as possible so you know what your legal rights are and what you might be entitled to.
Engaging a lawyer as soon as possible reduces the likelihood that the area where you have been injured will have changed, which in turn assists a lawyer in providing accurate legal advice. An expert lawyer can also help speak to the right people to get a full understanding of all the issues specific to your potential claim.
Engaging a lawyer as soon as possible will mean that the legal team can gather evidence and obtain relevant reports (including expert reports) to prepare the strongest case possible as you only have one opportunity to obtain compensation.
Here at Slater and Gordon we have access to free social work services that are available to our clients. This includes counselling, negotiating with services on your behalf, referrals to support groups and community services such as housing and financial and care support services to name a few.
All the major hospitals should have an in-house social work service that can put you in touch with a law firm.
The Law Institute in your state or territory will also have a referral service (here’s the link to the Law Institute of Victoria's service).
Why expert legal advice is vital to your case
A lawyer can help explain your rights and the scope of your entitlements.
The public liability law system is complex, and the big insurance companies have teams of their own lawyers advising them.
In the wake of a life-changing accident, you’ll want an experienced lawyer who knows the system on your side, to explain and fight for your rights.
Your lawyer can also point you to other sources of support like social workers, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Centrelink, and highlight any personal insurances you may be able to access.
We’ve seen cases like yours before, and won.
Here at Slater and Gordon I’m privileged to work in the biggest public liability department in Victoria, with the most combined experience.
The firm also has public liability lawyers in most other states. This means that if you are injured anywhere in Australia, or even overseas, we have a lawyer near you that can look after your claim.
There are not many things we haven’t seen in terms of public liability cases - we manage them day in, day out.
We are not afraid of insurance companies and know how to avoid the traps and difficulties that lawyers and insurers on the other side may use to stop you from being compensated.
Most importantly, we've had a lot of success with these sorts of claims.
What we do to help you get the best outcome for your needs:
We determine the viability of your claim - through viewing the scene, investigating liability and quantum
We go out and visit our clients in hospital.
We work flexible hours to suit our clients, including weekends and after hours if needed.
We are geographically located all over Melbourne and Victoria so as to help you easily access a Public Liability lawyer.
We keep the injured person and their family involved with close communication, so that all the right people feel included throughout the process.
Peace of mind is as easy as a phone call.
People are frightened to talk to a lawyer, and they shouldn’t be.
When you’re calling a lawyer to find out whether you have entitlements, it is a no obligation conversation.
It's as easy as a phone call, to see what can be done to help you navigate the system.
Slater and Gordon is proud to provide our clients with access to leading, affordable legal services, including our 'No Win, No Fee’ offer, as well as free counselling support if needed.
If you have a question, want some more information or would just like to speak to someone, make an enquiry now and our Public Liability team will be in touch with you as soon as possible.
You can make an enquiry online or phone us on 1800 555 777.
 National Drowning Report 2018, Royal Life Saving Society Australia. Available at: https://www.royallifesaving.co...