HONOLULU (KHON2) – Imagine you’re a hotel worker, and a visitor asks you to recommend “a good beach to go to as a family.” If that visitor is injured at the beach you recommended, can you or the hotel be held responsible for those injuries? That’s what one visitor tried to prove in his lawsuit.
But a Hawaii court ruled that the Maui resort wasn’t liable for the injuries he suffered after he went to a beach several miles away at their employee’s recommendation and became paralyzed.
The incident happened in August 2012 when the visitor and his family were vacationing on Maui. In response to his inquiry about a “good beach” they could visit, the hotel employee suggested Big Beach and provided driving directions, court documents said.
The visitor and his family then drove to Makena State Park — a state-owned park — and parked in a lot adjacent to Big Beach where they situated themselves close to a lifeguard tower.
According to court documents, the walkway connecting the northernmost parking area with Big Beach contained a permanent “Dangerous Shorebreak” sign that stated “WARNING” in bold font above a pictogram of a person upside-down after being tossed by a wave. Under the pictogram, it says, “Waves break in shallow water[.] Serious injuries could occur, even in small surf[.] IF IN DOUBT, DON’T GO OUT.”
There were additional signs with red flags throughout the area. Lifeguards were also making warning announcements on the public-address (PA) system during the day, court document said. The visitor, however, claimed he did not remember hearing these announcements. He also couldn’t recall seeing the warning signs along the path, near the parking lot or on the beach.
Court documents said that the visitor waded into the water to join his family, who entered before him. He bobbed in the waves for about 10 minutes before deciding to get out.
“As he began a half-walk, half-breaststroke towards the shore, a breaking wave struck him from behind, causing his head to strike the sandy bottom of the ocean,” court documents said.
The visitor’s neck hyperextended, resulting in permanent paralysis.
Court documents said the visitor filed a second amended complaint alleging he suffered a paralyzing injury because the hotel employee negligently recommended that beach without providing any warnings of ocean hazards. The hotel asserted that it had no duty to warn him of the shorebreak because the beach was located miles away and was not affiliated with or under the control of the hotel. The hotel also said there were warning signs at the beach, and thus warned the visitor of the danger he could face.
According to court documents, the visitor also moved for summary judgment and argued:
- Innkeepers have an enhanced duty to warn guests of foreseeable dangers regardless of geographic location.
- Even if the hotel did not have a duty to warn, it assumed that duty by negligently recommending Big Beach to him.
- The shorebreak warning signs were irrelevant under the facts of this case.
The Circuit Court concluded that the hotel “had no general duty to warn its guests of dangers well beyond” the hotel’s properties and rejected the visitor’s argument that the hotel assumed a duty to warn by recommending the beach since the employee “made no representations or guarantees concerning safety.”
In addition, the Circuit Court said that even if the hotel had a duty to warn or assumed a duty to warn, “there can be no liability as a matter of law” because warnings were posted at Big Beach on the day in question, and those warnings complied with HRS § 663-1.56.
The Circuit Court made its final judgment on May 19, 2017. Hawaii’s Intermediate Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the case on March 31, 2022.