- October 23, 2023
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Personal Injury
Any space that’s open to the public needs to be equipped with a safe way for people to navigate it. In most cases, this means level, hazard-free walkways, with guardrails lining any sharp drops. Keeping a property ready for safe traversal is one of the most basic services landlords are obligated to provide when welcoming in visitors.
Even when spaces cannot be made completely safe without destroying what people value about them, such as natural features like mountains and caves, the organizations that manage them have a duty to warn visitors of the dangers, and to provide expert advice on how to get around as safely as possible.
Lake Lanier’s status as a “natural feature” is debatable. It was artificially constructed in the 1950s, but now falls under the jurisdiction of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
What’s not debatable is that the lake is dangerous. There have been over 200 confirmed deaths on Lake Lanier over the past 30 years.
Organizations, both public and private, that control any part of the lake or its shores, need to take the danger into account when designing and maintaining piers, hiking trails, and other walking spaces where people could potentially fall into the water. Guests should either be able to enjoy these features as safely as they would an indoor mall, or receive clear, helpful instructions on the extra care they’ll need to exercise.
A Slip-and-Fall at Holiday Marina Resulted in Lake Lanier’s Eighth Death of the Season
Late on the evening of September 2, at the end of Labor Day weekend, game wardens for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources received a call about a man slipping off the edge of Holiday Marina, near the south end of Lake Lanier.
The man never resurfaced, and a search ensued, ending with the discovery of a body 17 feet under the water. The victim has been identified as 23-year-old Gavrie Alexander Whitlock.
This was Lake Lanier’s eighth death of the summer, and the third in only two weeks.
The public details of this latest incident are still vague. However, a coworker of Whitlock’s, from Myles Wrecker Service in Lawrenceville, reported that Whitlock loved boating and spent a lot of time on the water. So, a lack of experience around the lake does not appear to be a factor.
Now would be an appropriate moment to take a closer look at Holiday Marina’s safety standards. Do its surfaces have adequate traction? Are they well angled and balanced to prevent water from pooling in dangerous places? Are they easy to traverse without stepping too close to unguarded edges?
Of course, as always, an even better time to examine the safety of a public place would have been before a tragedy had the chance to occur.
Local Business and Property Owners Have a Duty to Keep Lake Lanier as Safe as Possible
Lake Lanier itself belongs to the Army Corps of Engineers, while Holiday Marina belongs to Suntex, a private company that owns and operates marinas around the country. Both organizations have a degree of responsibility for guests who walk the marina, and both could arguably have fallen short in the case of Whitlock’s death.
The Corps of Engineers could be responsible for how particularly hazardous Lake Lanier’s waters can be, with its underwater obstacles and general murkiness. The question of whether there’s a reasonable way for the Corps to change these qualities of the lake has been a local point of contention for years.
Suntex, on the other hand, is operating a business that floats on top of a body of water known to be dangerous. It might well be responsible for not taking that danger seriously enough when planning walking routes for its customers.
If you are next-of-kin to Gavrie Alexander Whitlock, or if you have also been injured or lost someone on Lake Lanier, reach out to the Stoddard Firm for a free consultation on your options for justice.