Hilton Head’s dark nights are part of its allure, but an Aiken County woman is claiming in a lawsuit she was injured on the island in part because of a lack of lighting.
Billie Pearson was a “business invitee” when she tripped and fell on a sidewalk in Palmetto Dunes’ Water Oak Villas on Nov. 7, 2014, according to her suit filed earlier this month in Beaufort County Circuit Court.
The accidental fall was partly because of “deficient lighting,” along with problems with the landscaping and hardscaping, or pavement, and insufficient safety measures, the suit said. Pearson alleges the defendants failed to, among other things, properly “safeguard the sidewalk,” warn business invitees and guests of the unsafe conditions, and have proper lighting.
She claims in her suit she suffered “permanent injuries and disfigurement to her body,” along with “mental, emotional and psychological damage and loss of enjoyment of life.” She is seeking unspecified actual and punitive damages.
Efforts to reach Pearson were unsuccessful. Her attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
More than 30 property owners, vacation rental operators and management entities in Palmetto Dunes are named in the suit as defendants, including Water Oak Villas, Wyndham Vacation Rentals, Palmetto Dunes Resort and Palmetto Dunes Property Owners Association. The lawsuit alleges the defendants were “grossly negligent” in failing to prevent injury on the “dangerous, unsafe, and defective” sidewalk.
Steve Alessandrini, vice president of corporate communications for Wyndham Vacation Rentals, said the company manages certain units in Water Oak Villas, but it does not oversee the entire property or handle maintenance, which includes sidewalk upkeep.
Andrew Schumacher, CEO of the Palmetto Dunes Property Owners Association, said Monday the POA had not yet been served the lawsuit, but added he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
In July, a Pickens County family sued the POA, alleging negligence in a 2014 incident in which a tree limb fell and injured their child.
A survey conducted by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette earlier this year showed that opinions were split on whether Hilton Head should add more lighting islandwide to improve safety. About 47.5 percent of those who responded thought more lighting would be good, while about 45.5 percent thought it would be bad.
There were 40 bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities at night in Beaufort County between 2006 and 2016, The Packet and Gazette reported earlier this year. Hilton Head had 28 bicyclist and pedestrian deaths from 2000 to 2016, 20 of which happened at night.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect Steve Alessandrini’s comments.