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Beach Safety And Premises Liability

Florida has over 1000 miles of coastline, and for the most part what you’ll find along the coast are beautiful white sand beaches. From the westernmost edge of the panhandle down to the Keys and back up again to Jacksonville, you can find public beaches, private beaches, abandoned beaches, and the wild beaches of natural parks.

Beach Flags

Starting in 2004, Florida implemented a system of uniform flags which can warn potential swimmers of the local surf conditions. Before then, public beaches would use their own particular system to warn visitors, and since the system could be completely different the next beach over, the public would often get confused. Thus, Florida created and then popularized a standard system of warning flags which run from double-red (water closed to public) to green (low hazard) with a special purple flag to indicate dangerous marine life.

However, using this flag system isn’t mandatory, and failing to use them does not make the public beach liable for any drownings or other accidents which may occur from unsafe surf conditions or riptides. That said, a beach which does choose to use this flag system has an obligation to use them correctly, and if it places the wrong flags it may be liable for negligence.

Where Beach Liability Begins And Ends

In a well-known and quite tragic case which began in 1997, Eugenie Poleyeff walked down to the beach from her hotel, jumped into the Atlantic Ocean for a swim, and then got pulled out to sea by a riptide. Another of the hotel’s guests, Zachary Breaux, swam after her to attempt a rescue, but both wound up drowning. In response, the estates of both individuals brought wrongful death suits against the hotel as well as the City of Miami Beach.

The hotel was found not liable because it didn’t own nor operate the beach, and as such it had no obligation to warn its guests of natural nearby hazards. However, Miami Beach, which leased out a rental service on the beach in question, was found to be implicitly offering the beach up as a public location and it couldn’t use “sovereign immunity” as an excuse to avoid warning visitors about dangerous hazards in the area.

On the other hand, a riptide is a temporary hazard which can randomly appear and then vanish, as opposed to a static hazard like a hidden sand bar or rock formation. Thus, while rip currents are a frequently deadly aspect of Florida beaches, it’s debatable whether anyone can be held liable for when they appear.

Still, the distinction between when a hotel or city may be held liable for hidden hazards or not is fairly clear in Florida precedent: if a hotel should happen to sit near a beach, or if a beach should happen to fall within a city’s boundaries, neither hotel nor city has an obligation to warn the public about the conditions past the edge of the waves. There may be an implied obligation to keep the beach itself clear of hazards, but swimmers take to the water at their own risk.

However, this obligation does come up once the hotel or city starts to make a profit off of beachgoers. As soon as they put up any sort of rental service, changing rooms, and particularly if they fence off the area for exclusive use, then they essentially claim ownership of the beach and must warn visitors of any hazards they could reasonably know about.

If you or a loved one had a bad experience on an occupied Florida beach, you may be entitled to certain compensations. Contact the law offices of , Goldman, Babboni, and Walsh today for a free consultation.

Attorney David Goldman has a strong belief that everyone should be treated fairly and those with the means should do what they can to bring justice in all areas of our society. That belief has led him to help Florida's injured from being taken advantage of by corporations and insurance companies. Since 1989 David Goldman has been fighting for the rights of Floridians both as an attorney and by personally supporting our community.

Beach Safety And Premises Liability

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh

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