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When a day at the beach goes horribly awry, what do you do?
Parasailing can be exhilarating—whether you’re a thrill-seeker by nature or not—because you glide through the air wearing an open parachute while being pulled by a motorboat. You get a bird’s eye view of whatever is below and you feel the wind in your hair and the feeling of weightlessness that comes with having your feet off the ground.
But anytime you’re lifted so far off the ground outside of your control, there is the risk of an accident.
The Parasail Safety Council estimates that between three and five million people engage in parasailing each year. Over a 30-year period, there have been about 1,800 reported injuries or fatalities; this equates to about 60 per year.
This doesn’t sound like a large number of parasailing accidents, but if it happens to you, it’s important to know what your legal options are.
Common causes of parasailing accidents
1. Boat collisions
Boats, like cars, can collide if the operator isn’t paying attention, is intoxicated, or has lost control of the vessel. Particularly if the operator is towing a parasailer, if they’re looking behind the boat to see the rider, then they could be failing to be looking in the direction the boat is moving. This could result in the boat colliding with another boat, a rock or buoy, or even running ashore. Any of these scenarios could result in a free-fall that could leave the parasailer with broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, a spinal injury, drowning, or other severe injuries.
2. Operator error
Along those lines, operator error can result in other types of parasailing accidents.
An inexperienced boater, or someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or simply someone who does not exercise reasonable caution is more likely to:
- Sail too close to the shoreline
- Fly a parasailer in bad weather conditions
- Allow too much slack in the towline or release too much towline so the flyer is too high
- Fail to provide adequate safety training and instruction to the flyer
- Fail to inspect safety equipment ahead of time
3. Bad weather
Weather happens. Particularly on the ocean, a storm can appear seemingly out of nowhere. A storm that involves strong wind, rain, or lightning can be very dangerous for a person who is flying.
4. Mechanical failure
This could be an issue for either the boat or the parasailing equipment. For instance, a broken harness or other failure could cause the flyers to fall or make it difficult to safely land. This also includes issues with the towline that connects the flyers to the boat. Even if there’s a problem with the equipment, it’s possible to bring a flyer to a safe water landing. However, the flyer should be wearing a life jacket and should know how to swim.
The operator should check the chute, harness and towline before any parasailing ride. If the line breaks during flight, the flyers would be left with no power or control. They could drift a long way and even land on shore, hitting trees or buildings.
Who is at fault in a parasailing accident?
If you’ve been injured in a parasailing accident, you might be wondering if you can file a lawsuit. If you were parasailing from land in the U.S., there is a set of rules for what state has jurisdiction if the accident was somewhere outside your home state. Jurisdiction laws are the same for personal injury, whether it’s a car accident injury or another type of accident.
If the accident happened off the coast of another country, you should consult a personal injury lawyer to determine your legal options.
In general, the rules of personal injury law apply. If a person’s or entity’s negligence was the cause of your injury, you may file a lawsuit to cover the costs of your medical treatment and related expenses for the injury.
First, you need to figure out who was negligent. If you were parasailing while staying at a hotel or resort and the parasailing was provided by the property, the defendant would likely be the owner or management company.
However, if the accident involved a product defect in the boat or the equipment, you might also have a claim against the manufacturer. It’s possible to have multiple defendants: The manufacturer of the defective equipment and the person who was responsible for checking its safety could share liability for your injuries.
If you were parasailing with a private person (i.e. a friend or family member) and the accident happened because of their negligence in operating the boat or poor judgment with weather or other factors, you can file a lawsuit against that person if you choose.
The majority of accidents happen because someone is careless. If this carelessness falls below a legally recognized standard, the person’s conduct is considered “negligent,” and the person is liable for any damages caused by their negligent action.
Proving negligence for a parasailing accident
To prove negligence, the plaintiff must establish:
- Duty. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care. A duty of care arises when the defendant is expected to exercise a reasonable standard of care to avoid harming the plaintiff.
- Breach. A breach occurs when the defendant fails to meet the standard of care required.
- Causation. The plaintiff must prove that their injury was actually caused by the defendant’s breach of the standard of care.
- Injury. The plaintiff must have suffered actual physical injury.
- Damages. The injury cost the plaintiff money. If you landed hard and twisted your ankle, but it was mended with an ice pack, you can’t file a claim because it didn’t cost money for medical treatment.
Recovering damages in a parasailing accident
Typically, you can recover the following types of damages for a personal injury:
- Economic damages are the funds you recover for items that can be quantified. Those include past and future medical expenses, past and future lost wages, property such as homes or cars, funeral expenses, and anything else that has a specific “price tag” attached.
- Non-economic damages refer to losses that don’t have a specific dollar value like pain and suffering and emotional distress.
Assumption of risk
There’s something else to keep in mind, and that’s the assumption of risk defense.
Assumption of risk means that the plaintiff (injured person) cannot recover damages from a negligent defendant (the party that caused the injury) because the plaintiff voluntarily accepted risk from the activity.
In other words, if the defendant can prove that the plaintiff assumed the risk of an abnormally dangerous activity, then the plaintiff would recover less in damages (or no damages at all, depending on the state). A plaintiff assumes risk if they:
- Had actual knowledge of the risk; and
- Voluntarily accepted the risk.
Each state follows a contributory or comparative negligence law.
The difference between contributory and comparative negligence is that under the contributory negligence doctrine, a plaintiff who is partially at fault for their own injury may not collect any damages. Under comparative negligence, a plaintiff could collect some damages that are reduced according to their percentage of fault.
Comparative Negligence, Contributory Negligence and Determining Fault
As a defense, this can make or break a plaintiff’s case.
Assumption of risk means a person chose to participate in activity that they knew could cause harm. It limits their ability to claim damages if they get hurt.
An activity must meet two criteria to be considered abnormally dangerous:
- It poses a significant risk of harm to a person or property that is not reduced even when exercising care; and
- It is not common usage.
The court would need to determine whether the particular activity was abnormally dangerous and whether the plaintiff assumed the risk.
What should you do after a parasailing accident?
The first priority is always to seek medical treatment for any injured person.
If you’re able to do so, it’s also a good idea to take pictures of the weather conditions, the boat, the parasailing equipment, and any other factors that might provide evidence of how the accident happened.
You should also note the names and contact information of any people involved, whether at a beach resort, other operators in a boat collision, or anyone else who might have played a role in the injury.
Finally, you can contact a qualified, experienced personal injury lawyer to help you get the advice, guidance and support you need through the legal process. Your lawyer is the best person to advise you on your options and likelihood of a successful outcome.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.