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Beaches: Visitors sues after injury at walkway
By Charles Swenson
A vacationer who fell on the steps of a damaged beach walkway at North Litchfield is suing Georgetown County and the local property owners association for damages.
Denise Stasulli was visiting from Delaware in April when she went to the beach with her family. As she went down the steps at Walkway 52, one of the treads was missing. So was the railing. She fell and broke her wrist, said Clay Hopkins, the attorney who filed suit on her behalf in Circuit Court last week. “She pretty much fell straight down,” he said.
The suit alleges negligence on the part of the county and the Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association. It seeks actual and punitive damages.
The walkway was among those damaged by Hurricane Matthew in October. It was scheduled for repair by a contractor hired by the county. The county’s Parks and Recreation director, Beth Goodale, initially put the completion date at Easter. The project is being handled by the Public Services department, and the deadline passed with walkways at North Litchfield still needing repair.
County Council Member John Thomas, a North Litchfield resident, urged the county to revise its schedule to repair four traditional walkways before starting work on the handicapped-accessible walkway, citing concerns for liability.
“Fifty-two was one of the ones they were trying to keep closed,” Thomas said. He was not aware of the suit until contacted by a reporter. “I personally saw one of the walkways that I told them to close. They nailed a board across the front of it and somebody ripped it down,” he said. The suit claims the county and the POA either failed to discover the risk to the public or failed to properly warn people about the risk.
Hopkins said his client, 66, was visiting family in the area. She was with three other family members at the time of the accident on the Sunday before Easter and they saw other people using the walkway, he said.
If there were problems with people removing barriers meant to close the walkway, Hopkins says the county should have taken other measures. “She wants to hold the county and the POA accountable for knowing about this problem and letting it continue,” he said of Stasulli.
The association maintains the walkways with funds from county accommodations tax grants. It doesn’t own the walkways and Thomas, a former association president, said “I don’t see that will stand up.”
“They are not our walkways,” said Ladd Dezendorf, the current POA president. “We do try to help fix them as we see problems.”
Hopkins argues the association shares the responsibility. “Sometimes it just takes a lawsuit to get people’s attention,” he said.
But Dezendorf, who was not aware of the suit, said the association and its members are aware of the issue. “Issues of walkway safety have been brought up to the county by various individuals,” he said. “I’ve contacted the county many times.”
The association didn’t try to tackle the storm repairs because Georgetown County was getting reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Dezendorf said.
He noted that when a section of walkway at Litchfield Beach collapsed in 2015 with four people on it, it was the POA that made the repairs within days. “We do try to make them safe, even though it’s not our responsibility,” he said.
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