SW Legal studies in Business

Government Not Liable for Failure to Warn Swimmers of Rip Tides at Government Beach
Description Appeals court affirmed dismissal of a wrongful death suit brought by survivors of a woman who died in rip tides trying to save one of her children. The government was immune from liability because the decision to issue rip tide warnings is a discretionary function.
Topic Torts
Key Words Wrongful Death; Sovereign Immunity; Discretionary Function Exception
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Cirelda Monzon died when she tried to rescue one of her children who was swimming off the beach at the Fort Matanzas National Monument, Florida, which is controlled by the National Park Service. Swimming was dangerous due to rip tides. The National Weather Service had notified beach officials of the possibility of rip tides, but no notice had been posted for swimmers. Monzon's husband sued the government for wrongful death for failure to inform the public of the rip tides. The trial court dismissed the suit. Monzon appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. The United States, as sovereign, is immune from suit unless it consents to be sued. A limited waiver to this immunity is provided by the Federal Tort Claims Act. The discretionary function exception is one of the limitations to the ability to bring suit under that Act. The failure of government employees to warn swimmers of the danger of rip tides in the area was an exercise of discretion in furtherance of public policy considerations, and thus a wrongful death claim is barred. Government officials have substantial discretion to decide when warnings should be issued for storms, rip tides and such events. If the government were required to warn all swimmers at public beaches of possible rip tides, there could be considerable costs.

Citation Monzon v. U.S., 253 F.3d 567 (11th Cir., 2001)

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