Our maritime lawyers Jason Margulies and Michael Winkleman have obtained an $828,524 verdict in favor of plaintiff Karen Kohnke, who was seriously injured in a Jet Ski accident March 1, 2012 on the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
After a two-day bench trial before the Honorable Judge Robert N. Scola of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the judge made the following findings of fact. Kohnke was operating a Jet Ski owned by Tamer and Farideh Gozleveli at the time of the accident. The court found that the PWC owners’ son, Aydin Gozleveli, negligently entrusted the plaintiff with the craft, despite the fact that Kohnke told him she had no prior experience operating or even riding a Jet Ski.
The day began with Kohnke was riding in the passenger seat of a Jet Ski operated by Ryan N., a friend of Gozleveli’s. Gozleveli was manning his own craft. While both men are experienced PWC operators, Gozleveli took time prior to getting in the water to inform his friend that they would be riding then brand new models (2012 11’ Sea-Doo Bombardier PWCs), with which Ryan N. had no previous experience. However, neither Gozleveli nor Ryan N. provided Kohnke with a safety briefing. In addition, these particular Jet Ski models came equipped with a “learning key”, which restricts the speed at which someone can operate the craft. Yet, neither of the men employed this important safety feature on the PWC Kohnke was operating. Both of these matters would play a significant role in Kohnke’s favor.
After a few hours in the water, Ryan N. offered Kohnke the opportunity to operate the PWC, which she accepted, though Gozleveli had previously told him that she was not to be allowed to do so. While he didn’t notice at first, Gozleveli later testified that later witness Kohnke operating the PWC alone, but did not tell her to stop, nor told Ryan N. to take over.
As a result, while following Gozleveli back to his home, Kohnke lost control of the PWC and suffered a serious Jet Ski accident, suffering extensive injuries that included puncture wounds to her lungs as well as humerus and pelvic bone fractures. The injuries required her to undergo several surgeries and caused her to remain hospitalized for a month’s time, followed by a month-long period of rehabilitation. The injuries persistently cause Kohnke severe pain and discomfort, and her condition is anticipated to continue – if not worsen – indefinitely.
The matter was decided by a judge, rather than a jury, because the accident occurred on navigable waters and was therefore governed by Admiralty Law. The court found that because Gozleveli testified that he was aware of the risks in operating the Jet Skis, yet did not provide Kohnke with instructions on how to operate the craft or try to stop her when he saw her riding alone, he was ultimately liable for the plaintiff’s injuries and Kohnke was awarded $828,524 on June 25, 2015.