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Rock Quarries and Drowning Accidents

With summer only weeks away, our law firm’s accidental drowning database has already documented a sharp increase (> 40%) in the number of accidental drowning in April versus the first three months of the year. We have also noted that some of the accidents have occurred in either abandoned or functional open-pit rock and materials quarrying operations.

Today, the drowning accident lawyer at The Doan Law Firm takes a look at two drowning incidents that occurred in rock quarries. He will then explain the some of the legal issues involved in drowning accidents that occur in rock quarries as well as the legal options that may be available to the families of these drowning victims.

Drowning accidents

Our first case involves a popular recreation spot in Missouri that has become the target of at least three lawsuits regarding drowning deaths.

The Offsets
Fredericktown, Missouri
2018 – 2019

The Offsets” is a recreation area located north Fredericktown, Missouri. Physically, The Offsets is a water-filled abandoned rock quarry covering 5 acres and is 60 feet deep. Its main attraction is diving from cliffs that circle the area, where heights of up to 50 feet are available for the more daring visitors. The Offsets charges an admission fee and all visitors must sign a waiver absolving the owners of any responsibility for injuries sustained while on the property.

After two accidental drownings in the summer of 2018, the Missouri Attorney General filed a lawsuit asking the court to declare The Offsets a public nuisance and order it closed until it could show that it had upgraded existing safety measures and add others. That lawsuit is scheduled to be heard on May 15th of this year. In addition to the Attorney General’s lawsuit, the families of the two 2018 drowning victims have also filed wrongful death lawsuits against The Offsets.

Our second case is an incident that occurred over the Easter Weekend of 2019 involving a father and son who drowned while trespassing at a quarry near Fort Worth, Texas.

Silver Creek Material Company
Ft. Worth, Texas
April 20, 2019

In the early evening of April 20th two men, 25-year-old Martin Gutierrez and his 52-year-old father Martin Gutierrez Talamantes, were walking near a water-filled area on the property of the Silver Creek Material Company. According to news reports, one of the men slipped and fell into the water and the other jumped in to attempt a rescue. Neither man was seen again until their bodies were recovered about 12 hours later by units from the Fort Worth Fire Department

The company states that the water depth in the area where the two men drowned varies from 50 to 100 feet and, since the water comes from underground aquifers, it is usually much colder than water found in surface collections such as ponds and rivers. It isn’t known if the men had permission to be in the area, but it is assumed that they were (technically) trespassing.

How the laws apply

In law, the property owner or the person having constructive use of a property (such as a renter or lease) is generally responsible for maintaining that property in a manner that will minimize the possibility that a visitor to that property will suffer an accidental injury. This means that if the owner/renter/lease knows of the existence of a safety hazard, or should have known of such an issue and fails to take corrective action, then a court may rule that person to have been negligent and order them to pay damages to the injured party.

Common questions regarding drowning deaths include:

  • Is personal injury law the same for public and private property?
  • What is the duty of a property owner regarding safe upkeep of a property?
  • What is difference between an authorized visitor and a trespasser?
  • If a trespasser is injured on a property, can the property owner be sued?

These questions will be addressed in the following sections.

Is personal injury law the same for public and private property?

In general, the law makes no distinction regarding negligence occurring on private or public property: the property owner or controller of a property can be held liable. However, many states have laws that restrict your ability to sue a state or local government by invoking the doctrine of sovereign immunity. This concept, and its application to lawsuits against a government agency, is complex and is best explained by a lawyer who is familiar with the laws of the city or state where the lawsuit is filed.

What is the duty of a property owner regarding safe upkeep of a property?

Duty refers to some action that an individual is expected to perform to comply with the law or to meet a moral obligation. In our context, we can say that everyone has a duty to act in a manner that will reduce the possibility that the consequences of that action will cause harm to another.

What is difference between an authorized visitor and a trespasser?

Other than the property owner, the law recognizes three types of visitors to a given public or private property:

  • an invitee, someone that the property owner has asked to visit the property for social or business purposes
  • a licensee, who usually pays a fee of some type (e.g. an admission charge or buys a ticket) for the privilege of using the facilities of the property such as an amusement park or a recreation area.
  • a trespasser, who is present on a property without the owner’s consent or knowledge.

Property owners are said to hold a higher duty to licensees and invitees than to trespassers.

If a trespasser is injured on a property, can the property owner be sued?

Believe it or not, the property owner can be sued if a trespasser is injured on a property. In many cases this principle is applied to children who enter a property and suffer an injury because the law holds that a child is usually incapable of understanding the potential dangers of trespassing. Thus, even though a child is trespassing, the child is protected under the law.

Why you should speak to a drowning lawyer

In the first case presented earlier, “The Offsets” appears to be in something of a legal bind due to the likelihood that a judge will rule in favor of the state’s request that it be ordered to close unless it can document that adequate safety measures have been taken to protect its patrons from injury. Furthermore, since the operation was charging an admission fee, the patrons were invitees and thus entitled to every possible protection of their safety. Finally, even if the business survives the state’s motion, it still faces wrongful death lawsuits that will most likely result in large damages awards.

Our second case is more problematic in that it involves two adults who, in all likelihood, could be considered willing trespassers and thus not entitled to the protections of law afforded to children. As this accident has yet to be fully investigated, we will discuss it in more detail in future posts on our website.

As always, we invite you to visit our website often for the latest developments in drowning accident law.

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