Lightning Strikes and California Injury Law

Whether you find it beautiful, terrifying, or both, lightning is a “striking” example of nature’s power. Lightning can cause enormous property damages and it can also cause serious injury or even death. While you can’t sue Mother Nature for lightning injuries, there are sometimes individuals or entities that contributed to the danger. Our San Francisco lightning injury law firm can help victims pursue money damages and hold such entities responsible for their role in lightning tragedies.

Venice Beach Lightning Strike Injures 13, Kills 1
lightning.jpgAs CNN reported, people enjoying Southern California’s Venice Beach last Sunday saw their day quickly shift from relaxing and fun to frightening and deadly. A round of thunderstorms had been forecast and a lightning strike hit the water and beach at 2:51 PM. The bolt left 13 people injured; all had been in or near the water and 8 required hospital treatment. One additional person, a 20 year old man, was killed, although officials were not initially certain whether he died because of the lightning itself, drowned, or was trampled.

Lightning, Negligence, & Legal Liability
At first it might seem that a lightning strike victim would be without a legal recourse. Sometimes that holds true, but sometime there are potential avenues for civil liability. For example, a person or group may have failed to fulfill a legal duty to protect the injured person. In other cases, the potential defendant may have contributed to the possibility of a lightning injury. Examples of lightning strike cases that gave rise to civil claims include:

  • In July 2011, one Boy Scout was injured and another killed when they were struck by lightning in Utah. The Deseret News reported that their families filed suit asserting that Scout leaders failed to properly evaluate safety risks and had not received adequate training on recognizing and responding to weather emergencies. In addition to claiming the campsite was in an unduly dangerous location, the families blamed troop leaders for exposing the boys to danger by sheltering on a ridge rather than in a mess hall that was a mere 100 feet away.
  • In September 2011, a day after his 21st birthday, a lifeguard was struck by lightning and killed. The Tampa Tribune explained that he was hit while standing in shallow water and evacuating water park guests. His family filed suit, saying the park was negligent in failing to follow appropriate procedures and in delaying evacuations despite receiving warnings from lightning detection equipment. Additionally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the park for safety violations and failing to follow procedures, thus exposing workers to lightning dangers.
  • NBC news reported that a Texas man died when lightning sparked an explosion at his friend’s home in August 2012. His family sued, noting the fire marshal concluded the bolt burnt holes in piping that supplied gas to the home’s appliances. The suit was one of several, with outcomes on both sides, that claimed the manufacturer knew the product was unsafe.
  • Lightning struck an 11 year old boy during football practice at school in Fort Meyers, Florida during October 2012. He died a few days later. The Southern Baptist Press reported, that his parents sued the school and church sponsor for negligence. The claim settled with a portion of the funds going towards preventing future lightning tragedies using early detection equipment.

We did not find news reports on the resolution of several of the above claims, perhaps because they ended in settlement including confidentiality clauses. Still, they are just a few examples of lightning-related injury and wrongful death litigation and the fact that they made it beyond initial pleadings shows there is legal merit in the concept.

As the CNN report on the Venice Beach tragedy notes, lightning fatalities are relatively rare in California (note: Florida sees the highest number of lightning deaths, consistent with two of the four examples above coming from Florida). Still, lightning injuries and lightning deaths remain a danger everywhere. If lightning or another weather-related tragedy injured you or a loved one and you believe a negligent individual or group contributed to the event, you may have a civil claim. Call to arrange a consultation with our Northern California civil negligence attorney in Santa Rosa, San Jose, Oakland, or San Francisco.

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