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South Carolina’s state parks, like Hunting Island near Beaufort and Caesars Head in the Upstate, are a scenic blend of beauty and natural diversity, offering adventure and serenity. That’s why they’re popular destinations with both visitors and residents from across the state. However, when injuries occur within these spaces, it raises concerns and questions about liability.

If you, or someone you know, have sustained an injury while enjoying these scenic locations, it’s important to know who might be responsible. Our South Carolina injury lawyers at Joye Law Firm can help you determine liability and seek compensation from those at fault.

Common Causes of Injuries at Outdoor Parks

Injuries in state parks often include slips, trips, falls, wildlife encounters, and issues related to faulty equipment or amenities. These injuries can sometimes be due to negligence by park staff or third-party maintenance personnel who fail to monitor, address, or warn visitors of these hazards.

  • Slips, trips, and falls: Uneven terrain, wet surfaces, or poorly maintained trails can lead to slip or trip and fall injuries. Parks have a duty to ensure paths are as safe as possible and warn visitors of potential hazards, such as closing a trail and posting warning signs.
  • Wildlife encounters: While encounters with wildlife are an inherent risk in many state parks, they can be seen as negligent if the park doesn’t provide proper safety guidelines or fails to manage known problematic animals.
  • Recreational equipment: If the park rents out equipment, such as canoes or bicycles, they must ensure these are in good condition. Faulty equipment can lead to injuries or deaths due to negligence in maintaining the equipment.

Can You Sue the State Government in South Carolina?

Like many other states, South Carolina has limited sovereign immunity. This legal principle protects the state government against legal action for negligence without prior notice. The South Carolina Tort Claims Act (SCTCA) outlines your right to sue the government when all the following circumstances apply:

  • The party at fault is the State of South Carolina, a state agency, or another government entity like a city
  • A government worker or the entity itself did something wrong
  • You’d have a valid claim if a private person did the same thing
  • You suffered demonstrable losses and damages

This Act clarifies limits on damages and excludes the state from responsibility for injuries from natural weather events due to snow and ice build-up, unless it results from an employee’s negligence. However, injury claims against the state government are complicated, and your best option is to schedule a case consultation with a personal injury lawyer to learn if you are eligible for compensation.

Potential Liable Parties: Not Just the Government

While sovereign immunity and its limitations apply to the state’s legal responsibilities, the state government may not be the only party liable when injuries occur in state parks. Other parties could be responsible, depending on the circumstances:

  • State or park management: If there’s a hazardous condition that the park management knew (or should have known) about and failed to address, they could be liable. Examples include poorly maintained trails, missing signage, or known dangerous areas without proper barriers.
  • Private contractors: Private entities might manage or maintain some parts of a state park. If a contractor’s negligence led to an injury, they might be held responsible. For instance, if a contractor responsible for maintaining park amenities left out tools or equipment that resulted in an accident.
  • Tour guide or outfitter: Private entities may operate tours within parks or attractions. The tour company might be liable if an injury occurs during one of these excursions. To make a claim, you’d need to demonstrate that the negligence of the tour staff directly resulted in your injury; for example–they led you to an off-limits area.
  • Other visitors: Sometimes, another park visitor’s negligent or malicious actions can lead to injuries. For example, you may be hurt in a collision with a mountain bike due to a reckless rider. In this case, you could hold the cyclist liable.

Determining Negligence of a Government Entity

Under premises liability laws, property owners and managers must maintain safe premises for visitors. This includes routine inspections to become aware of hazards like a rickety bridge, a washed-out trail, or a poorly marked danger zone. It also requires them to fix the issue or adequately warn visitors. If they don’t, it may be considered negligent.

To establish liability for your personal injury, you must prove negligence. Your attorney from Joye Law Firm can help you do this by establishing:

  • The liable party had a duty to ensure safety or prevent harm
  • That duty was breached
  • The breach directly resulted in your injury
  • There were actual damages (like medical bills or lost wages)

To prove that these essential elements of a personal injury case are true, we can help gather comprehensive evidence for your case. For example, we can collect photographs of the specific location in the park where the injury occurred, prove there were a lack of signs indicating potential hazards, and gather statements from witnesses present during the incident, if applicable. We can also review your medical records and work with healthcare experts to understand the extent of your damages and prove that the incident caused your injuries.

If your case involves bringing a claim against a government entity, we can help you navigate the strict filing timeframe. We can craft a timely Notice of Claim letter with the appropriate entity, protecting your right to file and receive compensation.

Learn Your Legal Options After a State Park Injury

Exploring liability for injuries in state parks can be complex, especially when considering potential claims against government entities. Ensuring you have knowledgeable representation is crucial in helping you receive a settlement for your damages.

Our attorneys at the Joye Law Firm understand the nuances of these injury cases. We can explain your rights and go over legal actions you can take for compensation. Contact our firm today for a free consultation to discuss your accident and start your claim.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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