The New Jersey Tort Claims Act in many ways limits the ability of injured persons to obtain compensation from governmental entities and employees for negligence.
One provision of the Act provides that “neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable for an injury caused by a condition of any unimproved public property, including but not limited to any natural condition of any lake, stream, bay, river or beach.” This statute recently came into play in an unreported Appellate Division decision involving a beachgoer in Margate. With lifeguards present, he entered the water and while sitting in about one to two feet of water, turned his head to avoid a wave, only to pass out and later wake up in the hospital. A retired firefighter found the plaintiff floating in waist deep water further down the beach, dragged him out of the water and performed CPR. However, the plaintiff remained comatose for eight days.
The trial court ruled that the Margate City Beach Patrol was entitled to unimproved property immunity, and dismissed the case on summary judgment. However, on appeal,the Appellate Division reversed. It considered the argument that the lifeguards failed to supervise by allowing the plaintiff’s body to float hundreds of feet down the beach, and that their failure to rescue him caused his injuries. It found that given unanswered questions such as the identity of the rescuer, how long the plaintiff had been submerged, how far he had drifted, and how he received his injuries, the trial court had erred in dismissing the plaintiff’s case. Typically the case would then go to trial or be settled.
It seems that the finding of the court that the lifeguards had undertaken to supervise activity on the beach trumped the unimproved property immunity statute. As always, it is crucial to retain an experienced personal injury attorney to investigate such an incident, obtain witness statements and gather other crucial evidence that may make a big difference. Give us a call today for a free initial consultation to discuss your personal injury claim.