More than 21 million households across the United States rely on backyard septic tank systems to remove wastewater from their homes. The underground tanks are most common in rural areas where public sewer systems aren’t available.
A hazardous septic tank can cause severe injury and wrongful death, especially if a child falls into the tank. In many of these tragedies, a manufacturer sold a defective lid, or a property owner failed to cover their septic tank adequately and instead use unsecured lids and covers, which can be easily removed by a child. In some cases, the septic tank lid was damaged or bumped by lawnmowers or as vehicles were driven over them. Natural decay can also cause a septic tank cover to weaken.
Septic tank injury lawyer Jeffrey B. Killino has extensive experience representing kids who’ve been hurt as a result of negligent acts and defective products, earning national recognition for his aggressive pursuit of justice on behalf of injured victims. If your child was injured, or you lost your son or daughter because of a septic tank accident, please contact attorney Killino today to learn more about your legal options.
About Septic Tank Systems
A septic system uses a combination of nature and technology to treat wastewater produced in a home’s kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry.
Bacteria in the septic tank digests organic solids in the wastewater. Soil-based septic systems allow the resulting fluid — known as effluent – to drain into a series of perforated pipes buried in a leach field, chambers, or other special units that slowly release the effluent into the soil.
Other types of septic systems use pumps or gravity to help effluent trickle through sand, organic matter (peat and sawdust), constructed wetlands, or other media to remove or neutralize disease-causing pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants. Some septic tank systems are designed to evaporate wastewater or disinfect it before it is discharged to the soil.
Septic Tanks Can be Dangerous for Kids
Underground septic tanks are out of sight, out of mind, and most homeowners give their systems little thought unless something goes wrong. However, septic tanks can cause injury, illness, and even death when property owners are careless and fail to take adequate safety precautions.
The top safety hazards identified in septic tank injuries and fatalities include:
- Unsafe septic tank covers.
- Septic tank covers moved and left unattended for any amount of time.
- Improperly abandoned septic tanks.
- Improper septic tank inspection and service procedures.
Drowning is one of the most serious hazards associated with septic tanks. Children, and some adults, have drowned after falling into a septic tank. Even if a child survives a fall, they could suffer a concussion, bone fractures, or other serious injuries.
Organic waste will produce highly volatile methane gas as it decays in a septic tank. Opening the tank and exposing methane to flames could trigger a catastrophic explosion. The presence of methane and other gases in the septic tank, including hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia, could also cause a child to suffocate if they fall into the tank.
Septic tanks also house significant numbers of disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Exposure to these pathogens can cause hepatitis, shigellosis, dysentery, gastroenteritis, and a variety of diarrhea-related illnesses.
Keeping Your Septic Tank Safe
Toddlers and older children have fallen into and drowned in backyard septic tanks, as well as septic tanks located in RV and mobile home parks, public parks and other public spaces, and apartment complexes. Regardless of where they’re located, it’s the responsibility of property owners to keep their septic tanks safe and secure.
A manufacturer can be held liable when a defective lid causes a septic tank accident. Liability might also arise from improper installation or lack of regular inspection.
A septic tank’s riser extends to the surface to facilitate pumping and maintenance. A tightly fitting and secured lid will prevent the riser from becoming a dangerous access point for curious children. Locking lids that require a key are the safest option. Inspect the cover regularly to ensure it hasn’t weakened from decay.
If small kids live in or near your home, it would also be wise to invest in a plastic catcher device that fits just inside the riser beneath the lid. These devices allow visible access but will prevent anyone from falling into the septic tank in the event the cover is left open or unsecured. You can obtain a catcher device from your septic system servicer.
Abandoned septic tanks with unsafe covers are also dangerous. Watch out for evidence of sinking soil, rusted-through steel septic tank covers, home-made wooden or flimsy tank covers, or home-made cesspools and drywells which risk collapse. Rope off and mark dangerous sites.
Don’t drive over your septic tank or septic piping. If a septic line must be run under a driveway, be sure it’s protected by special materials or placed in a concrete-covered and protected trench of adequate depth.
Never work alone around a septic tank. Because they often contain poisonous gases and illness-causing pathogens, it’s always best to leave septic tank maintenance and repairs to trained professionals.
Never enter a septic tank, even if it’s empty. Adults and children should also avoid leaning over a septic tank, as a lethal mix of gases rising to the surface could render a person unconscious.
Don’t go into a septic tank to retrieve someone who is trapped and overcome by gases unless you are equipped with a self-contained breathing apparatus. Instead, call 911 and place one or more fans at the top of the septic tank to blow in fresh air.
Keep flames away from the septic tanks, including barbecue grills and campfires. And never smoke near a septic tank.
Be alert for surface effluent or sewage backups into buildings or other unsanitary conditions that could expose your family to serious viral and bacterial hazards.
As an experienced child injury lawyer, Jeffrey Killino is committed to preventing septic tank injuries and deaths from ever occurring again. If your son or daughter was the victim of a septic tank accident, please do not hesitate to contact us at 1-877-875- 2927.