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Who is Responsible for Beach Injuries?


Published in Beach Injury on April 18, 2017.

As the spring break and summer travel season begins, families are planning their beach getaways. Whether you live near the water, frequently visit a community pool, or are traveling to an exotic destination, water and sunshine are part of what make this time of year so special. But what starts as a fun day in the sun may take a turn for the worse if someone you love sustains an injury, or tragically drowns. Who is legally responsible for accidents that happen on the beach, and how can you protect your family?

The laws regarding negligence vary from state to state, and may depend on where you’re visiting. Some states have more restrictive laws on who is liable, and if you’re visiting another country, it becomes a matter of international law. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll focus on domestic beach injuries. Even then, there is no simple answer.

Possible Liability Concerns in Beach Accidents

Whether you’re visiting a public or private beach, there are several possible liability considerations surrounding an accident:

  • Careless or negligent lifeguard behavior. In most of the states, if the negligent behavior of a lifeguard directly leads to a beach injury, they (or more likely, the person who employed them) will be liable for any damages that result. For example, you may be able to hold a lifeguard’s employer responsible for wrongful death damages in case of drowning. You could not, however, hold them liable for a bad sunburn. Examples of reckless lifeguard behavior include anything that violates the standard of care: in other words, something the lifeguard should have done or known compared to others in their profession.
  • National tides and currents. In some states, public beaches and their entities are not specifically liable for natural occurrences such as dangerous riptides. In others, states require both public and private beaches to post warnings about conditions they know of, or ones that might not be obvious. If they fail to post these signs, it may be negligence.

Considerations for Swimming Pools

Beaches often have swimming pools nearby for those who want to enjoy the sand and surf, without contending with the tide. Liability for swimming pool injuries also depends on who owns the pool, whether it was properly secured and supervised, and its location. For example, most public pools are required to be supervised by lifeguards. However, there may be laws or local ordinances in place that determine safe hours of operation and/or weather conditions. If a pool is freely accessible during a scenario that is legally deemed unsafe, there be liability incurred by the state or local government.

Pools that are owned by private citizens must always be properly secured with a latched gate. If a young child wanders into an open pool gate and drowns, the owner may be liable.

Other Types of Beach and Swimming Pool Injuries

Beach and swimming pool injuries fall under an area of personal injury law referred to as “premises liability.” It’s also referred to as “slip and fall” liability because this is a common cause of premises-related injuries. Say, for example, your child was running on a slippery pool deck, fell, and broke his arm. Who is liable? If a lifeguard failed to warn your child of the risks of running, it may be a case of negligent supervision. On the other hand, a pool may try to argue that it’s the responsibility of the parent.

In other words, like most legal questions, there is no simple answer to who is responsible for beach or swimming pool injuries. Specific laws and regulations vary greatly by location. If you have any questions about your beach accident, contact a personal injury attorney who is familiar with the laws and regulations in the area you’re visiting.