Lightning, Jellyfish, and Rip Currents: Who is Responsible for Dangers at the Beach?

In Florida, it might seem like there’s never a bad time to hit the beach . . . but actually, there might be certain times when it’s better to just stay at home!

While Florida’s beaches are usually popular and pleasant, weather or marine conditions can quickly turn a delightful day into a dangerous disaster. At the beach, there are many dangerous conditions that can put people at risk, including:

  • Rip currents
  • High surf
  • Dangerous marine life
  • Lightning

Lightning Death at Siesta Beach

Just over this past weekend, a lightning strike on Siesta Beach in Sarasota killed a 33-year-old man. As threatening storms rolled into the area, lifeguards on the beach notified visitors of the oncoming danger. But the victim, who was away from the main part of the beach, did not hear or see the warnings. He was struck by a lightning strike while standing on the beach. He later passed away, becoming the 501st person to be killed by lighting in Florida since 1959.

This local death is a reminder of how important is it to have a system in place to warn about dangerous conditions. While Siesta Beach’s system did not reach this victim in time, it got many others off the beach during the storm, perhaps preventing other tragedies.

Beach Flags Signify Dangers

To warn beachgoers about dangerous weather or marine conditions, most beaches use a system that involves differently colored flags.

  • Double red flags means that the water is closed to the public
  • A single red flag means a high risk of hazards, like strong currents, but that people can still go in the water at their own risk
  • Yellow flags means there are moderate hazards, which means that people should still enter the water at their own risk
  • A green flag means that the water is safe
  • A purple flag signifies dangerous marine life, which could include anything from jellyfish to algae

Beachgoers should remember that even if conditions are marked by yellow or green flags, situation can quickly change. These flags should be displayed prominently, like near an entrance to the beach. Many beaches also have signs that explain the meaning of each colored flag, since people might not be aware.

However, public beaches are not required to use the flag system. Additionally, a failure to use the flag system does not necessarily make a public beach liable for any injuries or deaths.

Determining Liability

That said, there are still factors that can make a public beach liable for a person’s injuries. Generally, it can be difficult to hold someone liable for beach-related injuries. This is because conditions rapidly change, making some dangers unforeseeable or unpreventable. It is also because of disputes over who owns or oversees the property where the incident occurred. For example, the owner of a beachfront hotel does not necessarily have a duty to warn patrons about dangerous marine conditions, since they do not own the beach. But on the other hand, if the hotel has fenced off a part of the beach specifically for hotel patrons, then they might have a duty to warn of dangerous conditions, since they are claiming ownership of that portion of the beach.

Since it depends on who owns the beach, determining liability for drownings, lighting injuries, or other dangers can be complex, but not impossible. When an injury, or fatality occurs at a public beach, an experienced personal injury attorney can help figure out who is liable.

Safety Tips

In the meantime, beachgoers can take safety into their own hands by remembering basic tips.

  • If caught in a strong current, swim parallel to the shore
  • If someone is in danger, throw them something, like a lifejacket or cooler, rather than get into the water yourself
  • Get out of the water and take shelter if you see lighting or hear thunder
  • If you are not a strong swimmer, wear a life vest or stay in shallow water. But remember, strong waves and currents can occur suddenly, which can make even the shallowest water dangerous
  • Get out of the water if you see dangerous marine life and alert a lifeguard
  • Don’t touch any marine animals, even if they are dead
  • If you’re worried about sharks, stay away from sandbars and schools of fish


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.


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