New Jersey Town Denies Responsibility for Beach Collapse Death

A lawsuit filed by the widow of a man who drowned in 2012 when the sand gave way beneath him at the beach in North Wildwood, New Jersey, seeks to have a dangerous section of the beach closed to the public to prevent further tragedies.  North Wildwood claims that the city is immune to such lawsuits due to a state law governing unimproved public property. Two others have also drowned in similar accidents there since 2009, reported AP.
According to J. Richard Weggel, a retired professor at Drexel University and a former official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which does extensive beach protection and restoration work in New Jersey, examined on satellite and archival photos of the inlet.  He said the tidal conditions undermine sand just under the water line, creating a drop-off of 10 feet or more that may have existed since the 1930s. The drop-off is invisible to people walking along the water’s edge.

North Wildwood claims the law puts the risk for use of such property on the user and wants the lawsuit dismissed. But the plaintiff’s lawyer alleges the town was negligent in its supervision of a public recreational facility that averaged 12 rescues per summer. According to court papers, beach patrol and city officials said many users of that beach didn’t want it to be protected by lifeguards because they wanted to engage in prohibited activities, including drinking alcohol and taking their dogs onto the beach. The town argues that a municipality cannot be found to be negligent when no individual employee has been found to be negligent in his or her duties.
North Wildwood’s chief lifeguard said in a deposition that he knew of the condition for 10 years, and lifeguards were well aware of the propensity for sand near the water’s edge to give way when someone walked on it. Lifeguards would periodically visit the area to warn beachgoers of the dangers it posed. The city had posted two signs at the beach prohibiting swimming there, but not mentioning the danger of walking on the sand near the water, according to  The plaintiff argues that such efforts “evidenced an intent to supervise by way of monitoring, entering into and becoming a part of the activity itself from which the injury sprang.”
Craig Follis has extensive experience in litigation, negotiating and settling suits, and providing legal opinions on liability and insurance coverage. You can reach him at (888) 703-0109 or via email at

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