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parasailing injury lawyers Florida

Parasailing Accidents

The personal injury lawyers at Leighton Law have a long history of recovering some of the largest verdicts and settlements in Florida for people who have been injured in parasailing and resort accidents.  Our results are detailed in our Verdicts & Settlements section of our web site. John Leighton has litigated and tried many significant resort, boating, parasailing and water sport cases on behalf of injured victims and the families who have lost loved ones.

Because Florida is surrounded by water, and contains thousands of lakes, parasailing has become big business, especially for tourists.  Just because it is popular – and seemingly fun – does not mean it is safe.  When things go wrong during a parasailing ride, they often have tragic results.

Amber May’s Tragedy

On August 18, 2007, 15 year-old Amber May White and her 17 year-old sister Crystal were on vacation in Pompano Beach, Florida. They decided to try parasailing for the first time in their lives. The resort where they were staying directed them to the water sports concession, where they paid to take a ride.

Despite warnings from the National Weather Service about high winds and seas, the parasailing company took the sisters up in the air over the Atlantic Ocean.  The boat pulling the parasail very close to shore, and the two sisters were over 500 high when the winds pulled them toward the beach. Despite pleas from Amber to bring them down, they sat strapped in hundreds of feet in the air. After several minutes flying above the beach shore, with the boat aground in the sand, the line holding the parasail snapped, catapulting the girls onto the roof of a nearby hotel.

Amber’s neck was broken in the crash, and on arrival to the trauma center they determined that she was brain dead. She was kept on life support long enough for her mother, Shannon Kraus, to arrange for organ donation. On what would have been her 16th birthday, her family instead held her funeral. Instead of a party, her friends and family memorialized her to say goodbye to this amazing young lady.

Because of Amber May, today there is a young girl with a heart and many others with Amber’s other organs.  Crystal suffered serious head injuries but, most important, lost her sister and very best friend. The sisters were known as a “team” since they did everything together. Crystal was holding Amber’s hand to calm her when the parasail started to fail. The equipment used by the parasailing company was inadequate and faulty, the operator ignored weather warnings, and the parasailing should never have been within 2000 feet of land or structures.

John Leighton represented Crystal White and her mother Shannon Kraus in a case against the parasailing operator and resort where this tragedy took place.  A confidential settlement was obtained, but nothing can ever replace what was taken from Crystal or Shannon.

The Fight For Safety Laws

Over the 7 years following this tragedy, John Leighton fought alongside Shannon Kraus and Crystal White to push the Florida Legislature to enact parasailing safety regulations.  No state had ever done so, and this was essentially a rogue industry where anyone with a boat, rope and parachute could go into the parasailing ride business. 

Mr. Leighton and the White/Kraus family took their cause to the public as well as the legislature. They helped draft proposed legislation and appeared on numerous national news broadcasts to bring attention to this serious problem. These included NBC’s “Today” show as well as “Inside Edition” and CNN.

Injuries and Deaths Continue

The carnage during parasailing continued, with two teens ending up in critical condition while parasailing in Panama City Beach, Florida. On July 1, 2013, two 17-year-old girls from Indiana, Sidney Renea Good and Alexis Fairchild, were vacationing in Panama City Beach when the line from their parasail snapped in high winds. They slammed into a condominium building and hit a power line before landing on a parked car on the ground.

Soon thereafter, Elizabeth Miskell and her husband Stephen decided to take a ride in a side-by-side parasail during their Florida vacation. Elizabeth’s harness malfunctioned, causing her to fall 200 feet into the Atlantic Ocean off Pompano Beach, where she was found floating face down in the water.  The Broward medical examiner ruled the cause of death was “asphyxia due to drowning and multiple blunt force injuries.’’  This was the same beach where Amber May White lost her life and Crystal White was seriously injured.

Unfortunately, similar accidents have occurred all too often in Florida and elsewhere.

In 2001 a 37-year-old mother and her teenage daughter were killed while parasailing off Ft. Myers Beach when the harness they were attached to broke and they plummeted over 20 stories to their death.  The woman’s other daughter watched in horror on the towboat as a gust of wind twisted the parachute upwards causing the towrope to snap, killing her family.

In 1999, an American tourist was killed in Nassau, Bahamas when a parasail tow line snapped from a strong wind gust and she fell 70 feet.

Since 1998, there have been 33 parasailing catastrophes in Florida, with six resulting in fatalities, according to a recent ABC News report.

For the past seven years, John Leighton and Shannon Kraus worked alongside a broad coalition of safety advocates and parasailing victims to urge the legislature to take action and regulate the state’s parasailing industry. The sole goal is to prevent further injury and death.  The fight for this new law was supported by the Professional Association of Parasail Operators (PAPO), a responsible trade organization that recognizes the need for safe, reasonable precautions to create a safe experience.

Florida State Senator Gwen Margolis (D-Miami) led the effort to enact the “Amber May White Act,” now known as the ʺWhiteMiskell Act” (since the tragic death of Elizabeth Miskell). The law requires the owners of vessels engaged in commercial parasailing to carry liability insurance, establish minimum standards for equipment, and prohibit parasailing under unsafe conditions. This is hardly a heavy burden for responsible parasailing operators to bear, particularly in a state where the largest industry is resort tourism.

John Leighton has lectured and written extensively on parasailing accidents, parasailing injuries, and legislation and ways to regulate this industry.

Parasailing safety – South Florida Legal Guide

Leighton article in Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel

Success!  Passage of The Country’s First Parasailing Safety Law

Finally in 2014, Florida enacted Florida Statutes Section 327.02, which represents the first law regulating the parasailing industry in the country.  This law is the first attempt to reign in the industry and require minimum standards and liability insurance.  The bill is named the “White-Miskell Act” to reflect the sad sacrifice of Amber May White and Elizabeth Miskell, who lost their lives to parasailing. 

NBC News reports that the National Transportation Safety Board may also attempt to regulate parasailing by seeking to have the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard regulate parasailing, citing eight serious accidents in four years:  http://www.today.com/video/today/55551542.

While it is sad that so many have given their lives when this law should have been passed years ago, it is greatly satisfying to see some legislation which will help protect tourists and locals alike. We are so proud of Shannon for her dedication and hard work in pressuring the legislature to do the right thing.

 

Current

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John Leighton appears on CNN to comment on proposed parasailing safety regulations.

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John Leighton appears on NBC's "Today" show as part of his representation of the family of Amber May White, who was killed in a parasailing tragedy.

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John Leighton is featured on the cover of Attorney At Law magazine as its "Attorney of the Month".

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John Leighton's 2 volume book Litigating Premises Security Cases.

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