When you think about shark attack locations, the waters off the coast of New York don’t come immediately to mind. According to the International Shark Attack File retained by the Florida Museum of Natural History, the states with the highest number of attacks are Florida, Hawaii, California, Texas and the Carolinas. This doesn’t mean that the waters off the coast of New York have never been dangerous.
The earliest recorded attack was in 1642, when garrison trumpeter Anthony Van Corlaer was allegedly killed and eaten by a bull shark while swimming in the Hudson River. (Spuyten Duyvil, which now an upper-middle-class area in the Bronx, was named after this incident.) The most recent attack occurred on September 3, 1953, when 15-year-old Alan Stevenson, Jr. was bitten on the leg by an 80-lb sand shark while surf fishing on Rockaway Beach.
Shark attack injuries present legal challenges because you can’t exactly sue the shark. But there may be other defendants who can be held liable.
Municipalities that operate public beaches owe swimmers and other visitors a duty of reasonable care in keeping property conditions safe. Although there is not a lot of case law on shark attacks given their rarity, if beach owners or operators had good reason to know that the waters were dangerous in that respect and failed to take proper steps to correct the situation, then they may be held liable. For example, if there had been frequent shark sightings, then those operating the beach would have a duty to warn people of the added risk.
Anyone who has seen the movie Jaws will remember that the mayor of Amity refused to close the beaches or post warnings about shark attacks because he didn’t want to lose the tourism dollars. Given that the storyline took place in the days before the Internet, social media was not in place to broadcast the danger, and tragedies continued. This is a classic example of failure to provide a duty of reasonable care to the public.
Sometimes the culprit is human error or negligence. In November 2015 a filmmaker who was injured by a shark the previous June sued a dive instructor for causing the attack. The woman claimed that she boarded a chartered boat to film underwater shark activity and the instructor, who was allegedly intoxicated and feeding sharks with fish pieces, directed her into an unsafe area full of floating bait, resulting in an attack that left her permanently disfigured.
While you’re not likely to be attacked by a modern-day Jaws when you go swimming this summer, it’s not impossible either. The first thing you need to do after seeking appropriate medical attention and reporting the attack to authorities is contact a New York personal injury attorney. Shark attacks may be rare in New York State, but if they happen, then you are still entitled to justice if someone else is to blame.
If you were injured at a beach, then you may be entitled to a cash award for your pain and suffering, lost wages and medical bills–all past, present and future. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney, call Jayson Lutzky, P.C. at 718-329-9500. Visit www.MyNewYorkCityLawyer.com to learn more about Mr. Lutzky’s 35+ years of experience.