The Case of the Hot Coals in the Sand

A girl burns her foot play­ing at an inn’s pri­vate beach. Who is re­spon­si­ble?

Reader's Digest - - Contents - VICKI GLEMBOCKI

A girl burns her foot play­ing at an inn’s pri­vate beach. Who is re­spon­si­ble?

ONE AU­GUST DAY dur­ing a sum­mer camp­ing trip, Kather­ine Pear­son and her fam­ily stopped at the Inn at Water­vale on Lake Michi­gan to hang out at the re­sort’s pri­vate beach. The beach is typ­i­cally re­served for pay­ing guests, but the inn’s owner, Dori Turner, had worked with Pear­son on a con­ser­va­tion project and had given her an open in­vi­ta­tion to use it for free. Pear­son and her hus­band re­laxed on beach tow­els and read while their daugh­ter, So­phie, played in the sand nearby with her friend Bai­ley Ann Marie No­ble, who’d come along for the week­end. The two tenyear-olds had been play­ing for about an hour when, all of a sud­den, Pear­son heard one of the girls scream. “I looked to my left, and Bai­ley was rolling around in the sand,” she later ex­plained. As she ran to­ward the child, Pear­son called out, “Did you get stung?” Bai­ley yelled back, “I stepped in hot coals!”

Fires are fairly com­mon on this Michi­gan beach. The inn’s staff

placed pro­tec­tive fire rings to con­tain blazes, but in­di­vid­ual pa­trons would of­ten start their own. What’s more, in­stead of us­ing wa­ter to ex­tin­guish those fires, as the inn re­quested, peo­ple would sim­ply toss sand on the flames, which of­ten left em­bers buried and hid­den from view. Bai­ley had stepped on some of those hid­den coals.

When Pear­son saw Bai­ley’s foot, she thought it “looked hor­ri­ble.” She im­me­di­ately took the child to the lake, put her foot in the wa­ter, and called 911. The hos­pi­tal later de­ter­mined that Bai­ley had suf­fered sec­ond-de­gree burns plus one third­de­gree burn the size of an eraser on her left foot.

Nine months later, Bai­ley’s mother, Kerri Hunter Otto, filed a law­suit on her daugh­ter’s be­half in Ben­zie County Cir­cuit Court. She claimed that the inn’s own­ers had been neg­li­gent. The inn ar­gued that Bai­ley’s mother couldn’t make a neg­li­gence claim, be­cause the inn was pro­tected by the Michi­gan Recre­ational Land Use Act (RUA). The RUA says that a per­son who hasn’t paid to use a fa­cil­ity for “fish­ing, hunt­ing, trap­ping, camp­ing, hik­ing, sight­see­ing, mo­tor­cy­cling, snow­mo­bil­ing, or any other out­door recre­ational use” can’t sue if he or she gets in­jured. Play­ing on the beach, the inn main­tained, counted as “other out­door recre­ational use.”

Was the inn re­spon­si­ble for the burns that the girl sus­tained on its pri­vate beach? You be the judge.

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