An unexpected injury can easily turn a fun day in the sun into a miserable experience. Being on a private beach can complicate matters due to the unique legal aspects involved, and it can have a sizable impact on your ability to receive just compensation. Here are a few things you should know if you're injured on a private beach and want to seek damages for your injuries.
Premises Liability and Private Beaches
In most states, established premises liability laws hold private property owners legally responsible for the overall care and safety of those who enter their property, even when the property is not open to the general public. As a result, private property owners have a duty to keep their premises safe for visitors, whether they be customers or social visitors. This also applies to trespassers, which explains why private property owners can't set traps for those who trespass on their property.
However, liability for private beachfront property is a bit different. Whereas private property owners owe a duty of care to their guests, that doesn't apply if they allow the public to access and use the beach on their property. Most states have exemptions in place that encourage property owners to make their private beachfront property available for free public use without being liable for injuries that occur due to unknown hazardous conditions.
The above applies as long as the beach is being used for non-profit purposes. If the property owner decides to charge admission to the beach or engages in other commercial activity on the property, the owner may become liable for injuries and other damages that occur. Each state can be different when it comes to their premises liability laws, so it pays to look up the statutes for your particular state.
Can You Sue If You're Injured?
If you're injured on a private beach due to existing hazardous conditions, you can still file suit against the property owner and other parties you feel are responsible for your injuries. However, the success of your lawsuit depends on a broad range of factors. Among these is the question of whether the injury came about due to unknown hazardous conditions. Depending on your state's liability exemptions, the property owner may not be required to warn you of any potential hazards that could result in injury as long as those hazards weren't deliberately created.
Where you were injured can also have a significant bearing on your personal injury claim prospects. For example, Florida and California both abide by the public trust doctrine, which holds that the land located below the mean high tide line (MHTL) towards the open water belongs to the public irrespective of private property ownership. Being injured in this area means you won't be able to hold the private property owner liable, in most cases. However, being injured on the "dry beach" above the MHTL could give your claim better standing in court.
Your claim may also depend on whether the property owner allowed commercial activities to take place on the property during the time of your injuries. If the owner allowed public access for commercial gain, then the owner may be held liable for injuries that occur. Otherwise, said liability may be limited due to your state's premises liability laws.
If you were injured by a vehicle traveling along the beach, the driver of the vehicle may still be subject to local traffic laws. In most cases, the driver may be liable for any injuries you received as a result of the accident.
The issue of determining liability on private beaches can be complicated due to these and other factors. If you were recently injured on a private beach, you'll want to talk to a personal injury attorney and see what your options for compensation are.