Florida Lifeguards A Liability?
Most citizens see lifeguards as a life-saving necessity provided by governments for the well-being and safety of their citizens. However, according to report in The Herald, one Florida county sees the addition of lifeguards as a liability that could significantly affect their locality’s financial state. Bay County recently considered an initiative to hire two lifeguards. These new employees would monitor the waters around the county pier. The positions would reportedly work during peak tourist hours, costing the locality about $65,000 per year. Surprisingly, the proposal was voted down due to concerns over liability.
According to the report, opponents put forth an ironic assertion. They argued that, instead of protecting the county from liability, hiring the lifeguards will actually open the locality up to more liability. The rationale presented was that, by hiring the lifeguards, the county would assume the responsibility of keeping visitors safe in the guarded waters. However, without the lifeguards, there is no assumption of responsibility for swimmers.
Joe McManus is the adviser and former president for the southeast region of the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA). In the article, he expresses his disagreement with the rationale of the opponents. He points to the success of lifeguard programs in nearby counties and calls the liability concerns a “red herring.”
Government Immunity from Liability
Lawmakers often implement statutes that shield governments and their agents from certain liability claims. These laws prevent any parties from suing the state for specific damages or injuries that occur. The rationale behind these laws is that residents want their governments to provide certain services to them, expecting law enforcement and trash collection. Under immunity laws, residents cannot then turn around and sue the city for providing necessary services. The courts generally uphold many of these laws, determining that governments should not hesitate to take on these vital responsibilities for fear of lawsuits. Florida Statute 380.276 is an example of this type of legislation. It states in part:
“Due to the inherent danger of constantly changing surf and other naturally occurring conditions along Florida’s coast, the state, state agencies, local and regional government entities or authorities, and their individual employees and agents, shall not be held liable for any injury or loss of life caused by changing surf and other naturally occurring conditions along coastal areas, whether or not uniform warning and safety flags or notification signs developed by the department are displayed or posted.”
The law was interpreted in a case before the Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal, where a child was injured in an area of the beach patrolled by lifeguards. The court sided with the locality, finding that the government was immune from liability for the incident. Proponents for new lifeguards point to this legislation as a counter-argument to the liability concerns.
Despite these laws, injured parties should not shy away from seeking redress. There are various elements to each particular case and an experienced lawyer may still successfully secure the compensation that is deserved.