Risky Business: A day at the beach

Sunny skies, warm water and sand between your toes are a few of the things that come to mind when you hear the phrase, “A day at the beach.” Generally, you don’t think about charcoal buried in the sand and burned feet, but one family now has those memories from their day at the beach.

Two sisters and their children arrived at the beach just before lunchtime. The group set up their lawn chairs and coolers in the sand near the covered pavilion. Over the next two hours they swam, ate lunch and played games on the beach. The four boys in the group abandoned their baseball game and moved a few yards away to the volleyball court located next to the pavilion, surrounded by a concrete sidewalk and benches. As the game began, one of the boys let out a yell and was hopping around, apparently injured. His cousin went over to see what happened and felt something hot burn his foot, too.

The boys were carried to the first aid station where they waited for the ambulance. The lifeguard on duty was notified the boys had burned their feet on something in the sand next to the pavilion. Hot charcoal was discovered just under the sand. The fire department arrived to extinguish the coals. In his report of the incident, the lifeguard speculated that a barbecue held the previous night might have been the source of the charcoal in the sand.

The Chamber of Commerce held its annual staff picnic in the pavilion at the beach every summer. For the last three years, the local rental store contracted with the Chamber of Commerce to provide tents, chairs, tables and charcoal grills.

On the morning of the event, the rental store employees arrived at the specified location and delivered the tables, chairs and grills and set up the tents. As in the past, the rental store did not supply the charcoal, only the grills.

The day after the event, the rental store employees arrived to pick up the equipment. They stated that three of the grills were empty of any charcoal. The fourth grill had unburned charcoal in it. The Chamber of Commerce left the unburned charcoal in the grill to show it had not been used. The unburned charcoal was emptied into a trash receptacle on the beach by the rental store employees.

The rental store was notified of the incident several days later when they were contacted by a newspaper reporter for an article on the boys’ burned feet. The store then turned in a claim to the insurance company. During the investigation of the claim, a consultant reported that he thought the coals would have extinguished themselves long before the rental store employees went to pick up the grills.

The Chamber of Commerce indicated that the city in which the incident took place was responsible for providing receptacles for disposing of burned charcoal. The commissioner of the parks department was quoted as saying that the town provided a can for the coals, but did not actually empty the charcoal into the cans. A representative for the Chamber of Commerce stated that the charcoal was left in the grills overnight, so it would completely extinguish and she felt it would be properly disposed of in the morning by either the rental store or the parks department.

When the public safety officer arrived at the beach on the morning after the event, he observed the equipment from the barbeque was still at the pavilion, including at least two grills with gray charcoal in them. Later that morning, as he was again patrolling the area, he witnessed the rental store employees packing up their equipment. A few hours later when his patrol again led him past the pavilion, all of the equipment had been removed and the area appeared clean and tidy. At that time, he was notified about the injury the boys had sustained to their feet and about the hot charcoal buried in the sand.

Two seasonal employees were among the employees of the rental store who packed up the equipment. Speculation by the claim investigator was that the seasonal employees may not have been trained on the proper disposal of hot coals.

Because there was not any conclusive evidence of any wrong doing by the Chamber of Commerce, the parks department or the rental store employees, it was determined in arbitration that all three entities would split the cost of the boys’ injuries. The total cost was nearly six figures. RM

Mary Ann Gormly, CERP, is a loss analyst for ARA Insurance, Kansas City, Mo. For more information, call 800-821-6580 or visit ARAinsure.com.