07.28.15

Personal Injury Liability in a Shark Attack?

Shark Attacks: Is Anyone Liable?

Shark attacks have been in the news a lot lately. A number of swimmers have been bitten off the coast of North Carolina this summer, and you may have seen the amazing footage of professional surfer Mick Fanning fighting off a great white shark during a surfing competition in South Africa.

From a legal perspective from a Kansas City personal injury attorney, can someone be held liable for the injuries suffered in these attacks? You can’t sue a shark, and even if you could, he probably wouldn’t have insurance. Are the municipalities that operate these public beaches responsible for the safety of their swimmers?

A property owner generally owes visitors a duty of reasonable care in providing safe property conditions. If the property owner knew or should reasonably have known that the property was in an unsafe condition, and still failed to take proper steps to remedy the situation, he may be liable for any injuries suffered.

Should the cities that own the public beaches have known that conditions were unsafe, that there was a possibility of a shark attack? Everyone knows there might be sharks in the ocean. Should swimmers have to be warned about something everyone already knows?

Although there is very little law on this subject (shark attacks are obviously very rare, or no one would ever swim in the ocean), the case would likely come down to whether the beach owners had knowledge that the waters were particularly dangerous, above and beyond normal swimming conditions. For instance, if there had been numerous shark sightings or a number of recent attacks (as in North Carolina), it is likely that the operators of a public beach would have a duty to warn swimmers of the additional risk.

You’re probably thinking: Hey, that’s the plot of Jaws. And you’re right.  Despite warnings from shark expert Richard Dreyfuss and police chief Roy Scheider, the mayor of Amity refuses to close the beaches or warn swimmers because he doesn’t want to lose the tourism dollars. Hopefully, the leaders of the beachfront towns of North Carolina have seen the movie because that strategy did not work out well for Amity.

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