Lawsuits could force changes to Myrtle Beach lifeguards
Other wrongful death lawsuits are likely to be filed against a company that contracts with Myrtle Beach to provide lifeguards in exchange for the opportunity to profit from sales of chairs and umbrellas on the beach.
It’s a move to try to end the practice known as a “dual role” surveillance system in the only U.S. city that uses it, a lawyer involved in the proceedings told Sun News.
The city of Myrtle Beach is also an expected target, given its relationship with Lack’s Beach Service, despite evidence that its dual-mode rescue model is fatally flawed, said Chris Pracht, an attorney involved in the legal offensive.
Dual role monitoring is a system that allows for-profit companies to make money through equipment rentals in exchange for providing trained lifeguards to monitor the water.
Lack’s Beach Service declined to comment for this story.
Pracht is part of a team that last week won a $20.7 million judgment against Lack’s Beach Service for the family of Zerihun Wolde, 41, a taxi driver from Silver Spring, Maryland, who got drowned on the second day of his vacation in 2018 along a strip of beach in Lack jurisdiction.
“We have already signed a case from July 2021 and have been in contact with other families who have contacted us since the verdict, so we intend to pursue prosecution for this conduct in the future” , Pracht said.
Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said severing ties with Lack’s Beach Service can only be done by a vote of the city council.
Mayor Brenda Bethune said Aug. 3 that she was not aware of any immediate plans to speak about the franchise agreement, which runs through 2025.
A jury ruled that Lack’s Beach Service was directly responsible for Wolde’s death due to its staff’s overlapping duties as first responders and shopkeepers.
“I hope the message it (the verdict) sends is that you can’t fool everyone all the time. The city and Lack have been effective over the past decade in gaining the attention of the Myrtle Beach City Council and public,” Pracht said.
Myrtle Beach contracts with Lack’s and John’s Beach Service to provide lifeguards on its beaches in exchange for the ability to make rental sales. These franchise agreements, which expire in 2025 and 2024 respectively, set out terms including season-based staffing levels and a requirement that hired lifeguards undergo training and field testing before they can observe the water. .
Myrtle Beach was a co-defendant in the case from 2019 when Mesawaet Abel, Wolde’s fiancé, filed his wrongful death lawsuit until just days before the trial began on July 25, when the court judge 15th Circuit Court, Kristi Curtis, dismissed the city under state tort. Claims Act which limits where local governments can be sued.
Pracht said attorneys plan to appeal Curtis’ decision, hoping to take the city to court in the Wolde lawsuit.