Last week a tragic accident on the picturesque shores of Virginia Beach shocked everyone who was gearing up to celebrate the start of summer. Lottie Michelle Belk, who was enjoying her 55th birthday with a beach vacation, was impaled by a beach umbrella. The full details are not yet clear, but it appears that a beach umbrella, which was improperly anchored in the sand, was picked up by a strong gust of wind and sent airborne. Ms. Belk was impaled in her torso area and went into cardiac arrest. She was quickly rushed to the hospital by medics but died shortly after arrival. Witnesses at the scene described the wind gusts as dramatic bursts that could have rivaled the tornado in the Wizard of Oz.
This is not the first time that vacationers in our area have been seriously injured by beach umbrellas, and as the summer season is kicking into full swing we hope that we do not see many more. Last summer, a Henrico man was vacationing in Bethany Beach, when he lost his left eye due to a flying beach umbrella. The umbrella had been swept down the beach and reached speeds of up to 40 miles per hour when it struck him. His brain cavity was breached and his eye socket was shattered. His family tried to warning him of the danger, but he was unable to get out of the way in time.
In 2010 Lynn Stevens, of Baltimore, was vacationing in Ocean City, Maryland when a beach umbrella was lifted high into the air by a wind gust and came barreling back down to the ground at a high rate of speed. The sharpened end of the umbrella struck Ms. Steven’s thigh. It penetrated four inches into her leg and nearly severed a major artery. Ms. Steven’s says that the umbrella was not tumbling in the wind as you might expect, but was instead launched like a missile by the wind. She spent several days in the hospital and was able to recover from her injuries.
Even though umbrella injuries may sound like freak accidents, there are dozens of cases on our shores every day and these cases are very preventable. Beach stand operators and beachgoers should know how to properly anchor umbrellas. If your beach umbrella is anchored by a stand operator and you choose to move it, you may assume liability for any potential injuries that may result. Umbrellas should be anchored at least 18-24 inches in the sand and the umbrellas should be tilted into the wind. If the wind is gusting or blowing at high speeds, it is better to be safe than sorry and you should take your umbrella down. At CSCS we have handled serious umbrella injuries cases, and we can help you evaluate your case. If you or a loved one has been injured, please call our office to speak directly to one of our attorneys for a free legal consultation.