MYRTLE BEACH, SC — A family has been awarded $20.7 million in a lawsuit against a lifeguard company after a man drowned while on vacation in South Carolina.
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According to WPDE, a jury has awarded Zurihun Wolde’s family $20.7 million after he drowned at a Myrtle Beach hotel in August 2018. The family filed a lawsuit against Lack’s Beach Service, the City of Myrtle Beach and a lifeguard.
The lawsuit claimed that on August 23, 2018, Wolde, his fiancee, Meswaet Abel, and their four children went on vacation from Maryland to South Carolina. The National Weather Service that same day had issued an alert for high rip currents, but according to the lawsuit, the family was never alerted by the city or Lack’s, said WPDE.
Lack’s and the city had a contract in place that allowed Lack’s to provide lifeguards in exchange for the ability to rent out equipment, according to WBTW.
The following day, the family got up early, and grabbed breakfast and stuff for the beach, according to the lawsuit. At around 10:30 am, the family headed to the beach. WPDE said there were no warning signs about rip currents and none of the lifeguards on duty warned the family or anyone else in the area.
Wolde and his two older children were apparently caught in a rip current and struggled. The lawsuit claimed that Wolde was able to save the children and asked for help, but none of the lifeguards responded. Other people on the beach helped the children and tried to help Wolde, according to WPDE.
When Wolde’s body made it to the shore, people tried to provide aid and eventually, lifeguards and other emergency personnel began performing life-saving measures, according to WPDE. He was taken to the hospital where he later died. The cause of death was asphyxia from drowning.
The lawsuit claimed that Lack’s lifeguards were more “focused on selling beach chairs and umbrellas than saving lives.” It also claimed that Wolde’s children suffered “psychological injuries which physically impacted” them.
Before Wolde’s death, Lack’s lost his certification from the United States Lifesaving Association, per the lawsuit. USLA wrote a letter to the city about the dangers of combining lifeguard duties with renting out equipment.
The contract between the city and Lack’s was signed about a year after the letter was sent from USLA, according to WPDE.
Weeks prior to Wolde’s drowning, the city received a complaint. Lawsuit documents said that a lifeguard neglected his duty to protect people at the beach to instead sell equipment, and claimed that Lack’s took no action to address the concern.
WPDE said that Wolde’s family will get $13.73 million in actual damages and $7 million in punitive damages.
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