#scuba Snorkeling death at La Jolla Cove prompts lawsuit – The San Diego Union-Tribune

October 22, 2019 - Comment

A wrongful death lawsuit against San Diego claims lifeguards at La Jolla Cove can’t adequately watch or protect swimmers because the cove’s unusual topography creates dangerous hidden areas, not visible from lifeguard towers. The lawsuit, filed by a man whose father died after a snorkeling accident, says the city needs more lifeguards, better located towers


A wrongful death lawsuit against San Diego claims lifeguards at La Jolla Cove can’t adequately watch or protect swimmers because the cove’s unusual topography creates dangerous hidden areas, not visible from lifeguard towers.

The lawsuit, filed by a man whose father died after a snorkeling accident, says the city needs more lifeguards, better located towers and warning signs in dangerous areas that are tough to see because of rock formations and other obstructions.

The suit says the existing deployment of towers and lifeguards gives swimmers, snorkelers and other users of the cove a false sense of security by implying there is continuous surveillance of the entire area.

Morteza Akbarzadegan was snorkeling at the cove in July 2017 on a day when there were high waves that earlier had prompted lifeguards to clear people from the water, according to the lawsuit.

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When lifeguards deemed it safe, Akbarzadegan entered the water and began snorkeling. He went missing about 10 minutes later, according to the suit.

His son, who filed the lawsuit, and his son’s mother waved to lifeguards to get their attention and help, but the lifeguards couldn’t see them because of the area’s topography, the lawsuit says.

Two teens eventually brought Akbarzadegan to shore, where he got medical help from lifeguards and bystanders before being transported by ambulance to a hospital.

He was diagnosed with anoxic brain injury, which occurs when the brain is denied oxygen for too long. He remained in a vegetative state for 10 months before dying in May 2018, the lawsuit says.

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Lawyers for the city said in court documents that the city isn’t liable for injuries caused by natural conditions of unimproved public property.

They also said the city isn’t responsible for injuries caused by participation in a hazardous recreational activity.

On Monday, City Attorney Mara Elliott reiterated that stance in an email.

“This death was a tragedy, but under the law taxpayers cannot be held responsible,” Elliott said.

The lawsuit says the city is to blame because city officials engaged in “willful misconduct” by not providing adequate lifeguard coverage and not aiding swimmers in trouble in a timely fashion.

The suit also says the city should post warning signs at the cove in areas where lifeguards can’t see, or might struggle to see, from their towers.

The suit also claims the city should have known it wasn’t adequately protecting swimmers at the cove and taken steps to boost safety there.

In addition it blames lifeguards for allowing bystanders to provide some of the medical help Akbarzadegan received, and for not having a properly functioning defibrillator that could have helped save him.

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The lawsuit, filed by Hamidreza Akbarzadegan, seeks compensation for funeral expenses and for the love and support he lost because his father died.

Superior Court Judge Ronald Styn has scheduled a Nov. 8 hearing in the case.

The cove, just off Coast Boulevard, is a part of a preserve with rich marine life, making it popular with snorkelers and swimmers.

Large swells often roll into the cove, making it dangerous sometimes for inexperienced swimmers.

Lifeguards there are on duty every day of the year from 9 a.m. until sunset.

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