Man who fell off beach walkover goes to trial with Myrtle Beach

The city of Myrtle Beach will go to court in the new year, after an unsuccessful round of mediation and an attempt to skip a trial requested by a man who fell off a beach walkover in 2014.

Richard Ciampanella alleges in a complaint filed in November 2014 that in August 2014, he was staying at a local hotel and as he leaned on the railing of the small boardwalk leading onto the sand, the railing gave out and he fell off the walkover. He now says the city of Myrtle Beach, which controls the paths leading onto the beach, was negligent in not properly maintaining or constructing the walkover.

Gene Connell, an attorney for Ciampanella, said his client suffered a spinal fracture as a result of the fall.

“[Myrtle Beach is] relying on something called a ‘recreational use statute,’” Connell said. “That requires that if you’re gonna sue a city or state or county entity, you have to prove gross negligence in the way it was constructed, built or maintained. We think we have enough for that.”

Will Bryan, the lawyer listed on court documents for the city of Myrtle Beach, could not be reached by phone Thursday. City Attorney Tom Ellenburg declined to comment.

Premises liability cases, where one party sues after being injured on the property of another party, almost always end in dismissal or a settlement. Of the four premises liability cases that closed this year where Myrtle Beach was a defendant, all ended in dismissal or after mediation, according to court records.

“About 98 percent of all cases are settled,” Connell said.

Mark Kruea, a spokesman for Myrtle Beach, declined to identify how much a trial might cost the city and said city officials have a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

Connell said that while a date has not been issued, he expects a trial to begin in late January. The case had already gone through a round of mediation, with Ciampanella and the city at an impasse. Connell declined to comment on the mediation, citing confidentiality requirements.

Myrtle Beach then asked for summary judgment, arguing that facts of the case need not be brought to a full jury trial. The judge on the case denied that request on Nov. 10, according to court records.

Connell said the legal process could stretch long beyond January.

“We’re probably gonna have to go to the court of appeals, cause they [Myrtle Beach] view this as something that they’re going to vigorously defend,” Connell said. “And we think you ought to be safe if you’re going to come there and use [walkovers.]”

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ