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Public beaches and shark attacks

Emergency responders assist a teenage girl at the scene of a shark attack in Oak Island, N.C., Sunday, June 14, 2015. Mayor Betty Wallace of Oak Island, a seaside town bordered to the south by the Atlantic Ocean, said that hours after the teenage girl suffered severe injuries in a shark attack Sunday a teenage boy was also severely injured. (Steve Bouser/The Pilot, Southern Pines, N.C. via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Emergency responders assist a teenage girl at the scene of a shark attack in Oak Island, N.C., Sunday, June 14, 2015. Mayor Betty Wallace of Oak Island, a seaside town bordered to the south by the Atlantic Ocean, said that hours after the teenage girl suffered severe injuries in a shark attack Sunday a teenage boy was also severely injured. (Steve Bouser/The Pilot, Southern Pines, N.C. via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Lately it seems shark attacks have been on the rise along the east coast of the United States.  Recently, two attacks occurred along the North Carolina coast just hours apart.  Sharks have been sighted all the way up to the Cape Cod coastline.  It is not an uncommon thing to see sharks along the coastline in the southern states.  Sharks are known to inhabit warmer waters.  But having the attacks occur so close to the shoreline is frightening. The shark attacks in North Carolina occurred in relatively shallow water, less than 100 feet from shore.  And although many call these attacks “rare”, just having one near where you swim is one too many. 

Most everyone has seen the Jaws movies.  These movies were the beginning of the fear of swimming in the ocean.  We witnessed the pandemonium on the beach.  We saw the town officials refuse to close the beaches.  We watched Roy Schneider argue in vain over closing the beaches to swimming for the safety of the holiday weekend crowds.  So, the beaches were left open to make as much money in this summer tourist town and we saw another fatality occur.  When thinking about this in terms of a personal injury claim, is there any liability to anyone in these types of cases?

To prove that someone is liable for damages in a personal injury case, you must prove that they were negligent and this negligence was instrumental in the cause of the injury.  Take the Jaws example.  The town officials were aware of a shark attack.  They weighed the options and decided to allow swimming in the waters even though a threat existed.  Warnings were not given to beach goers.  As a matter of fact, the beach goers were encouraged to take advantage of the beautiful beach and warm waters.  They did have lifeguards on duty, but to watch the amount of people in the water that day was a daunting task.  It would seem these town officials would be found negligent for the shark attack that occurred by leaving the beach open after the initial attack.

Towns that have beaches along known stretches of ocean where shark attacks occur have a responsibility to warn beachgoers and even close the beach to swimming when dangerous conditions exist.  Beaches are closed when there is a strong riptide that could endanger a person, the same responsibility exists when sharks are known to be in the area.