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FL Lifeguard Fired Over Liability Concerns

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

Florida lifeguard Tomas Lopez was fired after he tried to save a man's life -- an example of how a company's fear of liability can sometimes make waves and backfire.

Lopez, 21, was hired by Jeff Ellis Management to monitor a portion of a public beach in Hallandale Beach, Fla. The company allegedly gave Lopez strict instructions to stay inside his patrol zone, ABC News reports.

But when Lopez spotted a man in distress outside his patrol zone Monday afternoon, he ignored those instructions and leapt into action.

By the time lifeguard Tomas Lopez got to the man, other bystanders had already pulled him to shore, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports. Lopez stayed with the man until paramedics arrived.

That valiant act was Lopez's last as a lifeguard, as his employer fired him for straying 1,500 feet outside his patrol zone. The man Lopez tried to rescue was in an area where swimmers are advised to swim at their own risk, the Sun Sentinel reports.

"We have liability issues and [lifeguards] can't go out of the protected area," Lopez's ex-supervisor told the Sun Sentinel. Jeff Ellis Management could possibly have been sued had Lopez's rescue attempt gone wrong, the company said.

In general, a person has no legal duty to rescue a victim in distress, unless a special relationship exists. Such a duty can be established when a lifeguard is contracted to patrol a specific beach.

But if a Good Samaritan fails to exercise reasonable care during a rescue and makes things worse, he can potentially be held liable for damages. That liability may be imposed on an employer, if the Good Samaritan's actions were within the scope of his job duties.

After a national outcry over lifeguard Tomas Lopez's firing, Jeff Ellis Management is now offering Lopez his job back, ABC News reports. But Lopez has turned down the offer, saying he won't rescue the company from drowning in a public-relations disaster created by its own liability policy.

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