N.J.: Clarifying duties and liabilities of private beach owners under S.1709

July 3, 2024

Sponsored by Sens. Declan J. O’Scanlon, Jr., R-13, and Paul A. Sarlo, D-63, S-1709 would clarify the duties and liabilities of private beach owners and lessees regarding injuries suffered by beachgoers. The legislation would provide that private beach owners or lessees who allow or are required by the state to provide public access to their beaches for recreational activities would have no duty to keep the beach safe for entry or use.

This provision would apply regardless of whether the beach is maintained in its natural condition, improved or used as part of a commercial enterprise. Furthermore, during periods when the beach is unguarded, the owners or lessees would not be obligated to post signs warning visitors of potential dangers.

The bill differentiates between guarded and unguarded beach areas. A guarded beach area is one where an on-duty lifeguard is present, monitoring the safety of visitors and ready to respond to emergencies. Conversely, an unguarded beach area is defined as any part of a private beach which lacks supervision from a lifeguard.

The bill specifies that private beach owners or lessees would not be liable for injuries or deaths occurring in unguarded beach areas, even if no warnings are posted. This includes any part of the beach outside the designated boundaries of a guarded area or when a lifeguard is not on duty.

In the case of guarded beach areas, the bill outlines specific scenarios in which liability might still apply. If an injury or death occurs due to the willful or malicious failure of a lifeguard or beach owner to guard against known dangers, or due to negligence when permission to use the beach was granted for consideration, the beach owner or lessee may still be held responsible. In addition, acts of gross negligence by the beach owner or lessee could result in liability, especially if the injured party was using the beach for purposes unrelated to public access.

S-1709 would provide much-needed clarity on the duties and liabilities of private beach owners in New Jersey, aligning their liabilities with those of agricultural and conserved landowners to balance public access with property owner protection.

As the legislation progresses and secures an Assembly sponsor, PIANJ will track and monitor its development.

Theophilus Alexander
PIA Northeast

Theophilus W. Alexander joined PIA Northeast as a government & industry affairs specialist for the Government & Industry Affairs Department in 2023. Prior to joining PIA, Theo had served in both houses of the New York State Legislature. Previously, he worked as a legislative analyst for Hon. New York State Sen. Samra G. Brouk, D-55, and he served at the New York State Assembly, as a policy analyst with New York Assembly Program & Counsel. Theo received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics from Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.

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