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Beach Injuries: Who is Responsible?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

A fun day in the sun may not always be that fun, especially if you sustain a beach injury, or if there is a tragic drowning. Who is legally liable for accidents that happen on the beach? What if there are lifeguards on the beach that could have helped with the accident, or who were reckless in their rescue?

It depends.

Laws generally vary from state to state, so some states have more restrictive laws on who is liable for beach-related injuries.

Lifeguard's reckless behavior: In most states, if the negligent or reckless behavior of a lifeguard on the beach (or in a pool) causes a drowning or injury, then whoever is employing the lifeguard may become liable for any damages resulting from the injuries.

The "negligent" or "reckless" behavior of a lifeguard will generally be measured against a standard of care that lifeguards should adhere to as a result of their training and typical lifeguard protocol.

Natural tides or currents: In some states, ordinances or laws make it so that city and the government are not liable for injuries as a result of some sort of natural occurrence, such as a strong current or tide that may result in injuries.

However, other cities or states require that the beach must post adequate warning signs for conditions that the city knows of if the condition isn't obvious.

Swimming pool liability: Similar to beach liability, liability for swimming pool injuries are also varied depending on who is the owner of the pool, if the pool is open to the public, and what city or state the pool is in. For some public pools, city or state law mandates that there be lifeguards present. Others do not have this kind of requirement.

So, like most legal questions, the answer to who is liable for a beach injury is not exactly clear-cut, even if there is a lifeguard on the beach itself. And, the laws on liability and what beaches need to do to help keep beach-goers safe is also very dependent on the city and the state where the beach is in.

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