091417 Beach access: POA says visitor was negligent in fall at walkway
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Walkway 54 at North Litchfield offered a closer view of the surf during Hurricane Irma.

Beach access: POA says visitor was negligent in fall at walkway

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A vacationer who was injured in a fall at a North Litchfield beach access damaged by Hurricane Matthew last year was a victim of her own negligence, the area property owners association says in its answer to a lawsuit. But if her claims prove to be true, the association wants the court to find that Georgetown County bears the liability.

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, according to her attorney, Clay Hopkins, who filed suit on her behalf in May against the county and the Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association. The association wasn’t served in the case until July and filed its answer Aug. 30.

The suit alleges negligence on the part of the county and the 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.

As deadlines for those repairs passed without work being completed, boards and caution tape placed on the walkway by the county were removed by beachgoers, according to county officials.

Hopkins said if there were problems with people removing barriers meant to close the walkway, the county should have taken other measures. His client wanted to hold the county and the POA accountable, he added.

In its response, filed in June, the county said even if it was negligent Stasulli’s actions “constitute a greater degree of negligence.” It claimed that she failed “to use that degree of care and caution as a reasonable and prudent person would have” and says she was “walking in an area that was designated off limits to the public.”

The POA cites 20 reasons why the suit should be dismissed, including Stasulli’s alleged negligence and the claim that hers was “an unavoidable accident.” It also asks the court to deny the request for punitive damages as unconstitutional.

Yet, the association also points out that it does not own the walkways, the county does. “Georgetown has a duty of care to discover risks and dangerous conditions at the property, if any, and a responsibility to maintain the walkways,” according to its filing. It asks the court to dismiss the suit and to grant a claim of indemnity against the county along with any costs and attorneys fees.

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