8108 – The Surf’s Not the City’s Turf


If you decide to surf the surf instead of surf the net, watch out.  Bill decided to go surfing the old fashioned way at a beach in Cape May, New Jersey.  The waters were very rough because a hurricane was frolicking off the coast of North Carolina, resulting in hurricane watches and warnings all along the coast.  Despite being an experienced surfer, Bill was struck and tossed about by a number of large waves.  He hit his head on the ocean floor suffering a broken neck, which rendered him a quadriplegic.  Bill sued the City of Cape May claiming although the lifeguard logbook described surf conditions as dangerous, there was no flag or warning system to actually warn bathers or surfers, and there was expert testimony that failure to have such a warning system was negligence.  But the Court held that a public entity cannot be held liable for injuries caused by waves, which are naturally occurring forces of the ocean.  Bill appealed, but the Court affirmed.  So the net result is that the waters have closed over Bill’s case, and if the waves pull you under, the Courts won’t come to your rescue.


William Fleuhr v. City of Cape May and John Doe and County of Cape May, Supreme Court of New Jersey, 5/26/99 (see script no. 5482)