Beaches

Puerto Rico Ocean “Drownings” Settle

Recently, two ocean deaths involving high profile hotel beach resorts in the Caribbean, settled for relatively modest awards.  Both cases involved two different elderly gentlemen, each good swimmers, and had a history of pre-existing medical conditions before they died on separate occasions under different circumstances.  In both cases, the failure to supervise with professional lifeguards and the failure to warn effectively were the two major claims made by the plaintiffs.

In the first case an elderly gentleman with a history of seizures went to a small protected “pocket” beach with flat water lacking big waves and strong currents.  Accompanying him to the beach was his adult daughter.  Prior to them entering the water, the daughter left her father “for just a couple of minutes.”  When she returned to the beach, she could not find her father where she left him on the beach; however, eventually found him floating face down in the water.  Although he was resuscitated, he never fully recovered and remained hospitalized for a prolonged period of time before dying.

In the second case, a very experienced swimmer dove headfirst into extremely rough and dangerous water.  Eyewitnesses stated that he never returned to the surface after his initial dive.  After an extended period of time he was found washed up far down the beach after being battered into a rock jetty.

Autopsies showed that each man had water in their lungs; therefore, the findings “…were consistent with drowning.”  Plaintiff claimed in both cases that lifeguards would have prevented the drowning.  The defense claimed that while drowning non-swimmers do have water in their lungs as a result of submersion, good swimmers rarely drown.  Instead, medical maladies incapacitate swimmers in the water and water then enters the lungs which can mislead coroners.  Cardiac Arrhythmias and other major medical events often do not show up in an autopsy.  Defense also claimed that while lifeguards do prevent some drowning, they cannot quarantine patron safety; drowning with lifeguards on duty will occur.  Further, both hotels were located on public beaches not reserved for hotel guests and therefore there was no duty to provide lifeguards.  In the second case, Plaintiff’s argued that better signage would have warned of the rough and dangerous conditions of the surf.  Defense argued that the conditions were “open and obvious.”

Those maintaining beaches for their guests should have the latest beach signs that meet today’s signage standards, particularly when lifeguards are NOT on duty.  A good resource is clarionwatersafety.com.

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