Broward Parasailing Accident Illustrates Critical Need for Regulation
Gregg Hollander | September 4, 2012 | Personal Injury
The horrific tourist death in Broward County that occurred when a 28-year-old parasailer plunged 200 feet into the water is once again highlighting the risks visitors to South Florida face.
And those entrusting their safety to parasail operators may be among those at highest risk. This isn’t the first time Fort Lauderdale personal injury lawyers have reported on the lack of state or federal regulation of this industry.
In this case, The Miami Herald reports the harness may have shredded in the Aug. 15 accident, sending the victim plummeting to the ocean more than 20 stories below. A safety expert with the Parasail Safety Council reviewed video of the accident and said it appeared two straps sheared at the seam or stitch point. He said such shearing could be caused either by a manufacturer’s defect or by years of maintenance neglect and decomposition, adding that the harness appeared to be an older model.
Equipment in use during the accident has been confiscated during the investigation, which is being conducted by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and including the U.S. Coast Guard, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the National Transportation Safety Board.
Unfortunately, none of these agencies is in charge of investigating such operators before a tragedy occurs. The victim was strapped in with her husband of three years when she plummeted to the water below. The couple had been on a vacation celebrating their three-year wedding anniversary.
The death was ruled accidental by the Broward County Coroner’s Office, which listed cause of death as “asphyxia due to drowning and multiple blunt force injuries.”
Questions also remain about the relationship between the parasail operator and the hotel and resort at which it operated. Establishing that relationship may be critical because maritime law may limit damages for negligence to the value of the company’s boat unless another party is found to share blame in the accident.
What’s abundantly clear is that consumers need some additional protection when it comes to these operators. The New York Times reports Florida leads the state in the number of parasail operators — with more than 120 during peak season.
“There is nobody that regulates or restricts the industry at this time,” said Lamar Fisher, the mayor of Pompano Beach. “People who go up don’t think about safety issues and harnesses; they assume the equipment is safe and inspected and ready to go.”
All that is required of parasail operators in Florida is a valid boating license and a seaworthy boat. No state or federal laws exit to govern the activity. No safety inspections or training are required.
They are not even required to carry insurance.
Four people have died in these accidents in Florida during the last two years. Typically, accidents are blamed on sudden changes in the weather or a runaway canopy. Riders are often injured by being pulled across the water or by running into a building or other stationary object.
A move to pass better legislation ensued after a 15-year-old girl was seriously injured in a Pompano Beach parasailing accident two years ago. However, it failed to pass under pressure from business lobbyists.