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The Ultimate Guide to Parasailing Accidents

Parasailing accidents often lead to catastrophic injuries that require extensive medical care. This Ultimate Guide to Parasailing Accidents will help you or someone you know if injured in a parasailing incident. John Leighton and the Leighton Law team are the preeminent parasailing legal experts nationwide.

Every year, millions of people in Florida and other tropical locations strap themselves to a parachute for short parasailing trips around the ocean or on a lake or bay. It’s typically a fun way to spend a day at the beach with family and friends. Most of the time, parasailing rides go off without a hitch. Operators are supposed to use the right safety gear, have properly trained and sufficient numbers of personnel aboard, travel at safe speeds, and avoid unsafe water and weather conditions.

However, bad things can happen when you combine flying hundreds of feet above the ocean while being pulled behind a boat at high speeds. When people fall or collide with other objects, they can lose limbs, suffer traumatic brain injuries, drown, or sustain fatal injuries.

Freak accidents happen in parasailing, but most of the time these incidents result from negligence on the part of operators, boaters in the vicinity, and other liable parties. How can an injury victim and their family seek justice when the accident wasn’t their fault?

At Leighton Law, our parasailing accident lawyers work with victims and their families to investigate the real cause, document their injuries, and pursue legal action against those responsible. The right legal team can help you or someone you love win compensation for economic and personal losses after a parasailing accident. 

Here’s your ultimate guide to parasailing accidents and how you can win your case for damages.

How Risky Is Parasailing?

According to the Parasail Safety Council, more than 70 people died and over 1,800 people were injured parasailing between 1982 and 2012. These are just the ones reported.

In the United States, almost every parasailing company will require guests to sign a liability waiver before they strap into their harnesses. This is because they know that in spite of most parasailing trips ending safely, there is a significant risk of injury or death in an accident.

According to a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) leader quoted in Forbes, “An afternoon of parasailing can have tragic results if something as simple as a weak towline, strong winds, or a worn harness causes a serious accident. Operators must be competent and aware of all the risks associated with parasailing.”

The main issue is that most people need help to distinguish between a competent parasailing operator and a negligent one. Usually, they go parasailing on a whim at the beach, use the provider at the resort where they are staying, or choose where they go based on Google or Yelp reviews.  There is no rating service for parasail operators, so the public has little information available to them as to who is or is not competent.  Nor does the average vacationer know what questions to ask or how many staff should be aboard the tow vessel. Almost anyone with a boat, tow line and parasail can become a parasailing operator. That’s scary.

Despite millions of safe trips, several people have died in the past decade while parasailing. Some perished after their harnesses failed and they fell hundreds of feet, and other victims crashed into piers or collided with high-rise buildings or landed in the water strapped into a parachute harness and drowned.

Here are some of the risk factors that make parasailing dangerous:

High Winds

Winds can change quickly on the water. When you’re strapped to a large chute pulled by a thin line, it becomes harder to control. Shifts in strong winds can send parasailers colliding into piers, buildings, power lines, other boats, buoys, and structures in the area. They can also cause them to plummet into the water quickly.

High winds can also cause the boat to lose power when fighting against the wind and burn out the winch that controls the parasailing line.  Many parasailing accidents occur in high winds, which can arise especially in the summertime when tropical thunderstorms begin to form most afternoons.  Especially in places where parasailing amusements operate, these tropical areas are prone to sudden storms and wind gusts that require extreme vigilance.

Malfunctioning Harnesses

Harnesses must fit riders snugly and be strong enough to hold them securely throughout the ride. If a harness breaks, a rider can fall hundreds of feet into the water, which can kill or severely injure them. Falling into a body of water from a height is much like hitting something solid or concrete – it is unforgiving and causes severe force upon the body.

Unsafe Water Conditions

Tow boats generally need safe water conditions for safe rides. For example, it’s harder to turn and keep the rider in the air when the water is choppy, or the weather is unpredictable. One of the problems in the parasailing industry is that there is little incentive to stop parasailing when the winds start to pick up.  If the operators stop taking guests up, they lose revenue.  So there is a profit motive in continuing to ride and every reason to find excuses to minimize the weather conditions.

Other Boaters

Other boaters in the area pose a significant safety risk to parasailers. Drunk or inexperienced boaters make it harder for parasailing companies to operate safely. They struggle to anticipate when and where to turn.

Towline Strength

Of course, the towline must be strong enough to hold the passengers’ weight, withstand the force of the wind, and stay safe as the boat turns and lands the passengers after the ride finishes. But, according to the NTSB, tying knots in the rope can also weaken the towline.  Towlines also weaken fairly quickly as they are subjected to salt water, which deteriorates most materials quickly.

Fixed Objects

When there are any fixed objects like buildings, buoys, power lines in the area of parasailing, that’s a huge risk.  There should be no fixed objects for a substantial distance from where the activity takes place because any contact with any object, no matter how small, can result in catastrophe.

Drowning

Not everyone who parasails is a strong swimmer.  They can easily drown if they hit the water and get stuck under the parachute. Even expert swimmers can drown if they land in water and are strapped into a harness underneath a giant parachute sucking them underwater after falling from height. Drowning and near-drowning presents one of the most common hazards associated with parasailing.  And contrary to what many people think, if things go wrong while in the air, once does not gently glide down to the water surface.

These are just some of the risks parasailers face when they get in the water. The risks underscore how vital it is to work with a professional service with the proper safety checks in place.

Parasailing should never involve takeoffs or landings in the water or on land and should always occur from the tow vessel only.

Common Injuries in Parasailing Accidents

Parasailing injuries happen when weather or water conditions are poor, equipment fails, or parasailing operators make mistakes. Companies must assume their customers don’t know what they’re doing. Almost nobody is an experienced parasailer.  These rides are generally geared toward resort vacationers who have no experience with the sport.  As a result, they should make their safety procedures as foolproof as possible. Still, injuries happen every year. Here are some of the most common types of parasailing injuries.

Broken Limbs

It’s easy to break an arm or a leg when you fall hundreds of feet from the sky or collide with a solid structure at high speeds. From high enough, the ocean water feels like hitting a brick wall. As a result, broken bones are some of the most common parasailing injuries we see.

Concussions/Traumatic Brain Injuries

Concussions happen when people hit their heads on the water. Head injuries are relatively common, either from whiplash from the towline or a fall. However, concussions are sometimes hard to spot at the time of the injury because they frequently have delayed symptoms.  Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are commonly seen when parasailing accidents occur.  They can arise from striking an object or the g-forces of stopping very quickly or hitting the water.

Crushing Injuries

Crushing injuries in parasailing accidents are often severe because a person hits a building, boat, or another object with considerable force. The impact can break bones and cause internal bleeding.

Fatal Injuries

Severe parasailing accidents can turn fatal in the right conditions. We’ve mentioned drowning under the parachute in the water, but people can drown if they fall into the water too far from land. They can also die from high-speed collisions.

Tip – Here is some information on parasailing dangers along with safety tips to prevent injuries or death while on the water. 

The Impact of Parasailing Accidents on Victims

It’s impossible to overstate the impact of severe parasailing injuries or death after an accident. What was supposed to be a leisure activity on the water can quickly turn into a nightmare for victims and their families.

In a second, someone having a good time can face lifelong physical, emotional and financial impacts from their use of a negligent parasailing company. Parasailing accident victims typically encounter the following:

  • Pain & Suffering – They deal with the pain of broken limbs, internal injuries, concussions, too much water inhalation, and other injuries. These injuries typically need weeks or months of rehabilitation. Sometimes they are life-long and will never get better. Many victims have chronic pain that requires treatment or pain medication for life.
  • Trauma – An accident on the water can scar someone for life. It can affect their ability to live an everyday, happy life, especially in places like Florida and other coastal states.
  • Financial Costs – Whether it’s lost income or paying for medical care, there is often a significant economic impact associated with parasailing accidents.
  • Long-Term Disability – What if a parasailing accident leaves you or someone you love permanently disabled? It can affect your quality of life and future earning potential.
  • Disfigurement Someone who suffers severe injuries that require surgeries or suffer blunt trauma may face a lifetime of disfigurement that affects their entire being.
  • Wrongful Death – Some parasailing accidents are fatal. Families of fatal accident victims must live with the incident for the rest of their lives.  And have lost someone they love who was taken much too soon.

Proving Negligence in a Parasailing Accident Personal Injury Case

It seems that every year, victims are hurt in avoidable parasailing accidents. People experience broken necks, arms, and legs, as well as other catastrophic and fatal injuries. These scenarios sound horrifying, but how do you win a case and prove the company was liable? Here’s what you need to know about proving negligence in a parasailing accident lawsuit.

Lack of Regulation Is a Challenge

The absence of parasailing industry regulation makes winning lawsuits against companies difficult. Florida is an exception due to the 2014 passing of the White-Miskell Act, which outlines operating requirements for commercial parasailing ventures. (See more below)

Many Variables at Play

Assigning blame becomes challenging in the face of changing weather, other boats in the area, and other factors. Parasailing operators rarely if ever admit that they were the cause of any accident.

Meeting the Threshold of Negligence

How do you prove an accident was the parasailing company’s or another party’s fault? Working with an expert parasailing lawyer will help you establish liability so you can pursue damages.

Who Is Responsible for a Parasailing Injury?

In many cases, the parasailing company and its operators are the parties most liable for any injuries or death. In one recent case in Florida, the captain cutting the line likely led to the accident. While it’s still uncertain, there did not appear to be any equipment failure; the towline stopped working after the crew cut it.  Once the towline is cut or snaps, the parasailer is flying like a kite without a string until it hits something (object or water).

However, not every case is clear-cut, and accident victims can seek damages from multiple parties as long as they can prove liability. Some of the potentially liable parties include:

  • Equipment manufacturers
  • Officials responsible for posting hazard signs
  • Other boat operators or owners
  • Resorts or hotels providing parasailing or promoting the activity
  • Parasailing equipment wholesalers
  • Companies promoting parasailing trips
  • Service & Maintenance providers
  • Cruise lines or tour group operators working with parasailing operators

Florida’s White-Miskell Act

In August 2007, 15-year-old Amber May White died in a tragic parasailing accident. Evidence showed the operator ignored weather warnings and operated too close to the shore. While she and her 17-year-old sister were parasailing in Pompano Beach, Florida, her cable snapped in strong winds, sending them careening into the tile roof of a building. Amber broke her neck, suffered internal injuries, and died in the hospital days after the accident.

John Leighton of Leighton Law is an expert on parasailing law and represented Amber’s family and sister (who also suffered injuries) in the subsequent case. We helped the victims pursue damages against the parasailing operator and the resort where the accident happened. The victim’s family won a confidential settlement, and the accident spurred Mr. Leighton and Amber’s family to push for regulation of the parasailing industry. For more than seven years, Mr. Leighton lobbied the Florida Legislature with a coalition of parasailing accident victims and safety advocates.

As a result of their efforts, the Legislature eventually passed the White-Miskell Act in 2014 (Elizabeth Miskell was killed in a parasailing accident after Amber May White). The law covers the following:

  • Parasailing operators must carry liability insurance of $1-2 million per incident
  • Operators must furnish proof of insurance upon request to customers
  • Vessels must have licenses issued by the United States Coast Guard
  • The tow line must be rated for more than 4,800 pounds and less than 500 feet long
  • Each vessel must have someone over 18 to monitor parasailers. The monitor cannot be the boat operator
  • Establishes minimum standards for equipment
  • Prohibits parasailing in unsafe conditions
  • Vessels must have a VHF marine radio and a separate weather radio
  • No more than 3 people can parasail at a time
  • There must be no fog, and each vessel must log the weather for each trip
  • Operators must give safety instructions to passengers before every ride

What About the Liability Waiver?

Florida requires that all liability waivers have clear language that defines risks and what the person is waiving. Different states vary in whether they allow accident victims to pursue legal claims after they sign a waiver. In Florida, most waivers apply in instances of negligence, so speak to a lawyer about whether you have a case.

In some cases, claims of reckless behavior or any sort of intentional harm can overcome waivers. A good example of reckless behavior is if a boat captain showed up to work drunk or someone else was breaking the law when the accident happened.

How Much Compensation Do Victims Win in Parasailing Lawsuits?

Damages vary greatly in parasailing cases, and compensation levels tend to depend on the severity of the accident and how negligent or reckless the liable parties were. In accidents that cause minor injuries, victims can expect to receive enough money to cover medical costs, time off work from injuries, and other costs directly related to the accident.

However, damages will rise in relations to the severity of the accident and your lawyer’s experience. Your lawyer will consider some of the following elements of your case to let you know a general range of damages they intend to pursue on your behalf.

  • Punitive Damages – Under some circumstances, the legal system can award punitive damages to victims as a punishment to the parasailing company and deterrent to anyone else in the industry. The thinking is that punitive damages discourage similar mistakes from happening in the future.
  • Ongoing Care – Victims often receive damages for ongoing care when they suffer severe injuries that take months or years to rehabilitate.
  • Loss of Earning Potential – If the injury impacts the victim’s ability to work or pursue a career in a certain field, they can seek damages for lost future income.
  • Trauma & Emotional Suffering – Many times victims can win damages for emotional suffering or chronic pain because of the lasting effect of the accident.

Talking to a lawyer about different ways to seek damages will help you know what you can anticipate if your case is successful. In addition, many law firms offer free consultations for accident victims to discuss the incident and their best next steps.

When looking for a lawyer to handle a parasailing accident case, find this out before you hire one:

  • Has the lawyer handled parasailing cases and, if so, what kind of results did they obtain?
  • Has the lawyer gone to trial in boating, admiralty or maritime cases before?  These cases are very different from car crashes and slip and falls and come with a completely different set of laws that govern them
  • Are the lawyers preeminent in their field? Are they recognized by their peers as being top tier trial lawyers?
  • Have they lectured or published in the field?
  • Are they board certified trial lawyers (that is the highest level of certification and accomplishment in the field of trial law and requires experience, continuing education, and passage of a  rigorous examination)?
  • Does the firm being considered have the financial resources to take on the case? Many of these cases require substantial expenses in investigation, depositions, exhibits, expert witnesses and trial, which are generally advances by the law firm.  If a firm does not have the financial resources to fund the case it might be compromised and may not get settled or tried to its highest result
  • Does the firm have a track record of substantial verdicts and settlements?  This plays a very significant role in who you hire as your lawyer, since you don’t want your case to be an education for lawyers you hire.

An expert parasailing accident attorney will outline what you should do and how they’ll build a solid case to win you the compensation you deserve. At Leighton Law, we specialize in parasailing accident cases and other boating and water sports accidents. Our team is here to manage your case and pursue financial relief for you and your loved ones. The team at Leighton Law has years of experience representing parasailing accident victims. We offer no-obligation consultations to discuss your accident and how to best proceed.

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