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Fatal Parasailing incident in Key West Underscores Limits of Florida Parasailing Laws

This week, a tragic parasailing incident took the life of 36-year-old Nicholas Hayward and critically injured 28-year-old Azalea Silva. This is a very sad reminder that Florida laws regulating – or attempting to regulate – the parasailing industry are still utterly inadequate and do not protect life. A very similar case was handled by Leesfield & Partners in 2007, which resulted in the passage of the very first law of its kind in the state of Florida. Ira Leesfield and Thomas Scolaro have been at the forefront of this issue, and it is time for reform.

The Miami Herald has reported on the latest incident that the commercial boat used to launch tourists up their parasail was operated by Sunset Watersports. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which investigates all boating accidents, has already stated that “severe weather [was] a contributing factor with this boating accident.” The spokesman for FWC, Officer Bobby Dube, described to reporters that the boat was operating in the middle of “harsh weather” when the incident occurred at around noon. Dube added that the incident took place as the duo began their ascent, they apparently fell very quickly and crashed in the water.

Regulation of the Florida parasailing industry is very light. The Amber May Law came into effect on October 1, 2014. It was named after Amber May, a young teenager who perished in a similar parasailing incident in 2007 in Broward County. Amber and her younger sister were also sent in the air as a duo in the middle of severe weather. Neither the small boat nor the rope could resist the high winds, and ultimately the rope snapped. The girls were catapulted against nearby buildings and hotels.  Crystal, Amber May’s sister, lost her best friend and sustained a traumatic brain injury in an incident that was 100% preventable.  Leesfield & Partners filed suit against multiple defendants immediately and secured a settlement on behalf of the family.

On the surface, Florida law does regulates the parasailing industry. It states in part:

• Parasailing is prohibited if the currently observed winds reach a sustained wind speed of more than 20 miles per hour or if wind gusts are 15 miles per hour higher than the sustained wind speed and if the wind speed during gusts exceeds more than 25 miles per hour.

• Parasailing is prohibited if rain or fog results in a visibility of less than a half a mile or if lightning storms come within seven miles of the parasailing area.

Unfortunately, the law fails to mandate that proper equipment be used by parasailing businesses to measure weather in compliance with the law. It also fails to mandate regular inspections of said businesses to possibly uncover, fine, temporary or permanently shut down delinquent businesses who, to this day, continue to propel unsuspecting tourists several hundred feet in the air without the slightest idea of the weather conditions.

It took several attempts for the Amber May Act to become law. Florida and Florida law-makers are pro-businesses to a fault. Consumers, locals and tourists, remain unprotected by the Amber May Law as it is written today. For established businesses that sell jet ski tours, boat tours, snorkeling tours, scuba-diving tours, and now parasailing rides, the law can easily be ignored. This is why Leesfield & Partners has litigated multiple parasailing incidents in the last 15 years, including fatalities, traumatic brain injuries, paralysis, loss of limbs and other facial injuries.  If severe weather was a contributing factor of this latest incident in Key West, then it was categorically preventable. The operator of the boat, Andrew J. Santeiro, and the officers at Sunset Watersports knew that there are two paramount safety checks prior to accepting patrons’ money for a parasail ride: Weather and equipment.

Leesfield & Partners is currently in litigation against Sunset Watersports for other water-related incidents, and we will monitor the FWC investigation into this latest one.

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