San Diego settles with surfer whose lawsuit led to new beach-safety law
Published in News & Features
SAN DIEGO — San Diego settled this week a 9-year-old lawsuit that prompted a new state law that aims to make beaches throughout California safer by clarifying how fast lifeguards can drive personal watercraft near swimmers.
Before the new legislation, Assembly Bill 1682, state regulations appeared to bar lifeguards from driving faster than 5 mph within 100 feet of any swimmer or surfer and within 200 feet of any beach.
Those regulations, which state lawmakers called unintentionally restrictive and poorly written, came to light when a surfer injured at Mission Beach in August 2013 sued San Diego for gross negligence.
In his 2014 lawsuit, Michael Ramesh Haytasingh said the city was responsible for neck and other injuries he suffered trying to avoid a lifeguard driving a watercraft above that 5 mph speed limit.
The lawsuit cited the state's Harbors and Navigation Code, which had said the only water vessels exempt from the rule were vessels operated by the state that have special lights and are directly engaged in a law enforcement operation.
Leaders of coastal cities and lifeguard agencies throughout the state quickly came to San Diego's defense, filing briefs of support and requesting clarification of regulations they said were clearly meant for privately owned watercraft — not lifeguards of any kind.
The city of San Diego Lifeguard Division said traveling faster than 5 mph is crucial to saving lives.
"Every second responding to a water rescue is integral to a positive outcome," the division said in court documents. "Once a drowning victim slips under the surface of the water, the rate of survival and recovery become exponentially worse."
The city won the case at the Superior Court level without a trial, but the 4th District Court of Appeal ordered a trial based partly on concerns that vague state regulations could cause problems in the future.
The state Supreme Court declined to review the case, but Associate Justice Joshua Groban wrote an opinion in November 2021 urging the state Legislature to clarify the regulations.
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