The 1980s sitcom phenomenon “Baywatch” was about a bunch of lifeguards in skimpy suits running around saving people at the beach. There is nothing lighthearted about what lifeguards do, however — especially on beaches where there are turbulent waves or riptides and people who aren’t aware of the danger dive right in. Although lifeguards are typically trained by the Red Cross, there are many situations that can happen with disastrous endings.
There used to be laws in place that protected a lifeguard from prosecution if things didn’t go right, but Hawaiian legislators are considering removing those protections, opening lifeguards up to potentially be sued. The Maui County and Makena State Beach Park lifeguards are in real danger of being vulnerable to personal injury lawsuits if the state legislator doesn’t extend the laws that have been in place for over 15 years to protect lifeguards from legal action.
On June 30th of this year, if actions aren’t taken to prolong a bill and make it permanent, then area lifeguards will be open to liability when people get hurt. A bill set to extend the limited immunity liability has already made it through the Senate; the House has all but gutted it, though, and might just allow the current measures in place to expire. The House bill is going to return to the Senate, and then both chambers will need to reach an agreement about how to resolve the many differences that they are proposing.
The House bill varies from the Senate version because it requires that the personal injury attorney Tampa, is required to defend any civil case that is based on negligence, omission, or a wrongful act at the hands of a lifeguard at designated state beach parks. Both counties are looking for the same thing: protection for their workers. They know that being a lifeguard isn’t an easy job; it’s a very dangerous job, and without protection an individual can potentially face both harm to themselves, and now liability.
If the measure is not extended and the lifeguards aren’t provided the protection they need, then both communities insist that they won’t be able to provide lifeguard services at beach parks as a community resource. People will have to be left to their own devices to protect themselves in the ocean, which is a scarier proposition than just extending the liability clause.
The Senate Bill 562 was set to make the allowance against liability a permanent one, which has been in place since it was first drafted in 2002. A revised bill was to go through both the Senate and the House, and its aim was to make the law’s liability protection extend another four years. It shielded lifeguards from any personal injury liability unless there was found to be any act of omission or wanton or gross negligence in the lifeguard’s actions.
One of the chief lawyers lobbying against Bill 562 is Bob Toyofuku, who is part of the Hawaii Association for Justice, an organization that is a champion for Hawaii’s personal injury lawyers. They maintain that giving a lifeguard an additional pass that other workers aren’t afforded just isn’t reasonable. They should be held accountable as any other employee would be in the case where they perpetrated an act that ended in a personal injury to someone.
The Tort Claims Acts was initiated to treat lifeguards on any state beach as state employees, and guarantees the right to be defended against any lawsuits made against the county. Although Toyofuku insists that he would support amendments made to the current laws, he doesn’t believe that any lifeguard who acts negligently should be free and clear from prosecution. He believes that it sets the precedent for the public to be less safe when under the “watchful” eye of lifeguards.
The facts are that the measure already doesn’t protect lifeguards from personal liability if there is gross negligence on behalf of the employee. The additional protection that they are free from prosecution when they have done everything within their power is necessary. Without those allowances, it is unlikely that any employee would perform such a dangerous job and put themselves in a high-liability position, and this could leave the Hawaiian state beaches unprotected going forward.