Fatal Florida Parasailing Accident Prompts Calls for Formal Safety Standards
A Connecticut woman on vacation in Pompano Beach, Florida died in a parasailing accident in August. Her harness allegedly failed, causing her to fall about two hundred feet to the water. The accident prompted an investigation by state and federal authorities, which is still underway. An organization that advocates for parasailing safety is calling for regulations related to the activity’s safety. Few regulations at the federal, state, or local levels address the many safety concerns surrounding the activity, which can be popular among beach vacationers in Florida.
Parasailing involves one or more people towed by a boat or other vehicle while harnessed to a parasail wing that resembles a parachute. As the vehicle moves forward, the parasailer is lifted into the air by the parasail. The parasailer has little to no control over his or her own movement while in the air. A sufficiently powerful vehicle can enable two or more people to parasail in tandem.
During the afternoon of Wednesday, August 15, 2012, a husband and wife were parasailing in a side-by-side harness, towed by a motorboat. The woman’s harness reportedly broke while they were between 150 and 200 feet in the air. The boat captain had to allow the man to descend before retrieving his wife from the water. She was pronounced dead at Broward Health North later that day, with blunt trauma and asphyxiation listed as the causes of death.
The Miami Herald reported on the captain of the boat, who has a valid captain’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). The USCG is investigating the matter with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also joined the investigation, making this the first investigation of a parasailing accident at such a high level of government. The investigation is reviewing both the equipment itself and the possibility of operator error. It remains unknown, therefore, whether defective equipment or negligence contributed to the accident.
Parasailing accidents in which a person falls from a harness are reportedly very rare. The most common accident occurs when the cable connecting the parasail to the boat breaks. This occurred in 2007 in Pompano Beach, when high winds snapped the line carrying two teenage sisters and slammed them into a building. The younger sister died, and the older sister sustained severe head trauma. A lawsuit, which settled out of court, accused the boat’s crew of ignoring weather conditions. The company involved in the August 2012 accident was the only one in Pompano Beach offering parasailing at the time.
The Parasail Safety Council (PSC), which monitors parasailing safety data, had renewed calls for federal and state regulations. It estimates a casualty rate of one per 90,000 parasailing rides nationwide. Seventy people have died in parasailing accidents since 1982, the PSC reports, and 1,600 or more have suffered injuries. Proposed regulations include procedures to guard against faulty or defective equipment and to ensure that vehicle operators have training in use and maintenance of the equipment.
The personal injury attorneys at Cohn & Smith represent the rights of people in South Florida who have been injured by dangerous or defective consumer products, or by a person’s negligent or unlawful conduct. Contact us today online, at (954) 431-8100, or at (305) 624-9186 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers.
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Florida Supreme Court Rules that Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine Applies to Motor Vehicles Other than Automobiles, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, September 13, 2012