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Another Day at the Beach

February 16, 2018

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In <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/REPORTER/pdfs/2018/2018_30153.pdf"><em><u>Brian Reilly v. Patchogue Properties, LLC</u></em></a>, plaintiff was attending an engagement party for his cousin, Matthew Hansen, at the Patchogue Shores Community Center, which is owned by the defendant.  The defendant is a community center, comprised of people in the community, and which owns a small beach customarily utilized by residents of the community. After consuming 6-7 beers throughout his time at the party, plaintiff decided to dive off of a dock into a beach with shallow water, sustaining injury.  The issue at play was whether plaintiff could hold the incorporated community liable for a violation of Health Code and a breach of defendant’s common law duty to plaintiff.
The Health Code is straightforward in its requirement that beaches must have “[c]learly visible depth markings” which state “No Diving” if the water is less than eight feet in depth. The subject dock in this case fit the criteria and was unmarked.  However, defendant moved for summary judgment under an exception of the Code which excludes beaches “owned and operated by a condominium…or an incorporated or unincorporated property association…”  The exception only applies when the beach is used exclusively by members of the subject entity claiming the exemption.
Plaintiff unsuccessfully argued that the testimony from the defendant’s president, who testified that the defendant entity pays an assessment just like a homeowner, is part of the community, and is accessible by pedestrians and used by family and friends, prevents the defendant from the benefit of the exception since the beach is not solely utilized by residents of the community. The Court rejected this argument, refusing to apply a strict reading of the Health Code.  Instead the Court found that nonresidents occasionally utilize a beach is insufficient to strip the defendant from the exemption. Similarly, the Court held that plaintiff’s reckless conduct constitutes a superseding event which absolves the defendant from liability.
The ruling is a relief for communities which operate a small, noncommercial beach for its residents. Even though warning signs are always advisable, the ruling shows the Court’s reluctance to apply the same standard to a community beach that it would to a public or for profit beach.  Perhaps more importantly to defendants everywhere, while New York does not have a direct bar from recovery for drunk defendants, this ruling is another example where Judges look unfavorably upon poor decisions of plaintiff, particularly when they are drunk.
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Thanks to Chris Gioia for his contribution to this post.  Please write to Vito A. Pinto with any questions or for more information.

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