Husband of Hilton Head woman killed in alligator attack now suing Sea Pines Country Club

More than a year after his 45-year-old wife was killed by an alligator inside a private community on Hilton Head Island, James Cline filed a new lawsuit to add Sea Pines Country Club to the list of companies and organizations he is suing.

On Sept. 25, James Cline filed the amended lawsuit in Beaufort County Common Pleas, adding the country club to the defendants in the original wrongful death lawsuit that was filed in April against the Sea Pines Resort and Sea Pines Community Services Associates (CSA). Cassandra “Casi” Cline was killed on Aug. 20, 2018.

James Cline’s attorney added Sea Pines Country Club to the lawsuit because it “owned and maintained the property where the subject incident occurred,” according to the complaint.

Cassandra Cline was walking her dog by a lagoon on Governors Lane in Sea Pines when a 9-foot alligator attacked her and her dog, according to the lawsuit. Cline was remembered as a “Mary Poppins” kindergarten teacher from New York and had recently moved to Sea Pines, the Island Packet previously reported.

“(Cassandra) Cline struggled with the alligator and was eventually dragged into the lagoon where the alligator held her underwater,” the lawsuit said.

Cassandra Cline “suffered traumatic injuries” and died shortly after the attack, the lawsuit said. James Cline is suing for the damages endured from her death, including expenses from her funeral, loss of future economic contribution, and also mental anguish and grief suffered by her beneficiaries.

The dog escaped the incident, the Island Packet previously reported. The alligator believed to be responsible for the attack was caught and euthanized shortly after the attack.

The Resort, CSA, and the Sea Pines Country Club were all aware of the “aggressive” 9-foot-alligator in Sea Pines, but failed to warn the public about it, and failed to take appropriate measures such as removing the alligator, according to the lawsuit.

In May, attorneys representing the Sea Pines Resort asked a judge to dismiss the resort from the lawsuit. President Steven Birdwell said in a letter that the resort does not own or operate the lagoon or the land where the woman was killed, nor does the resort have permission to remove alligators, therefore the resort should not be a defendant in the lawsuit.

In September, Judge Marvin Dukes denied the motion to dismiss Sea Pines Resort from the lawsuit.

CSA representatives responded to the lawsuit in June, and said the organization had “no reason to know, and could not have foreseen, that the alligator (that killed Cline) was aggressive or posed a peculiar threat or hazard to the public.”

The amended lawsuit filed this week did not change any allegations made against the Resort or CSA. The only change to the lawsuit was the addition of the Sea Pines Country Club.

Sea Pines Resort operates the visitor amenities within Sea Pines including hotels, Harbour Town and the Sea Pines Beach Club. Sea Pines Community Services Associates represents residential property owners within the community and operate the roads and common property inside the gated community.

Lee Cope of Hampton-based Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, P.A. law firm is representing Cline in the lawsuit. A jury trial has been requested.

Beaufort County alligator attacks

Fourteen of the state’s 23 reported alligator attacks happened in Beaufort County, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources alligator program director, Jay Butfiloski, who keeps records of incidents dating back to 1915.

Half of those Beaufort County attacks happened in the past decade. Nine of the 14 were on Hilton Head Island. Cline’s death was the second fatal attack in the state.

No other area in the state comes close to Beaufort County’s number of attacks. Charleston and Berkeley counties have the second-highest number of attacks — three — the same as Sea Pines, a large, gated community on Hilton Head.

Thirteen of the alligator attacks in Beaufort County happened inside gated communities — mostly on Hilton Head.

Gated communities cover 70 percent of the land on Hilton Head Island — and a good portion of Beaufort County — which makes the area unique when it comes to alligator management.

SCDNR gives security staff/ subcontractors in gated communities permits to relocate or kill problematic alligators. In areas outside of gated communities, SCDNR-permitted agents rarely ever relocate alligators because it’s illegal to transport an alligator from one property to another.

“We leave that decision up to the communities, and sometimes it’s a struggle with ‘do we need to remove this alligator or not,’” Butfiloski previously told the Island Packet. “There are a lot of inner struggles within these communities when it comes to alligators. Some people hate alligators and some people hate killing them. ”

For instance, Sea Pines appeared to kill more alligators following the fatal attack last August. After euthanizing the alligator that killed Cassandra Cline, three alligators were killed within the gated community between August and December 2018. Before the incident, Sea Pines hadn’t killed an alligator since 2015, according to SCDNR records obtained by the Island Packet through a Freedom of Information request.

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Mandy Matney is an award-winning journalist and self-proclaimed shark enthusiast from Kansas. She worked for newspapers in Missouri and Illinois before she realized Midwestern winters are horrible, then moved to Hilton Head in 2016. She is the breaking news editor at the Island Packet.