Due to its miles and miles of coastline and warm year-round temperatures, Florida experiences some of the highest rates of recreational boating and water sports. Although this creates an enjoyable hobby and activity for residents and tourists alike, it can also lead to some serious injuries and legal disputes. In the recent case of Gozleveli v. Kohnke, a Florida husband and wife purchased two jet skis during 2012. Shortly thereafter, the couple’s adult son allowed his friend and another adult woman to operate the jet skis. Notably, the woman had never operated a watercraft before and had zero experience when it came to using the vehicle.
During the proceedings, the son testified that he did not give permission to the woman to operate the jet skis, and he had also given his friend a lesson on how to use them. The woman was within the general vicinity of the son and his friend when he was providing instruction on how to use the jet skis, but the testimony was unclear on whether she was paying attention to the lesson.
After the tutorial, the couple’s son mounted one of the jet skis, and the friend mounted the other. The woman joined the friend as his passenger and the pair traveled to the Ocean. After three hours of enjoying the water, the group returned to the couple’s residence. During the ride back, the friend switched places with the woman, who had been riding as a passenger, and let her operate the jet ski.
Testimony seemed to reveal that the son never made an effort to stop the woman from operating the jet ski, or to remind his friend that the woman did not have permission to use it. Testimony indicates that the son eventually instructed the woman to follow him along the waterway toward his parents’ home.
Soon thereafter, the woman lost control of the jet ski and collided with a nearby dock. The woman suffered substantial injuries, requiring a two-month stay in the hospital. Eventually, the woman filed a personal injury claim in Florida’s Southern District Court, alleging that the son acted negligently when he entrusted her with the jet ski.
Applying maritime law to the case, the federal court ruled that the couple’s son acted negligently when he entrusted the woman with the jet ski because he should have known that she was in danger of suffering an injury as a result of her lack of experience.
Next, the court concluded that the woman was contributorily negligent for some of the injuries she sustained. Contributory negligence is a personal injury doctrine that allows the court or jury to determine whether the plaintiff bears any responsibility for his or her injuries. The court based its conclusion on the basis that the woman should have known that she was at risk of suffering injuries due to her inexperience operating watercraft. As a result, the court attributed 40 percent responsibility to the woman and 60 percent responsibility to the son. Based on this apportionment, the woman was awarded over $800,000 in damages.
If you or someone you know suffered an injury as the result of another person’s carelessness, you may be entitled to compensation. The experienced personal injury lawyers at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano have been providing seasoned legal guidance to accident victims throughout Southwest Florida for several years, including in Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral. Call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.
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