By: Raychel Lean, Daily Business Review
The case reflects an ongoing problem in South Florida, according to Miami maritime lawyer Jason R. Margulies, who said many companies aren’t properly teaching customers about the dangers of jet skis.
A 30-year-old British tourist has hired Miami attorneys Jason R. Margulies and Stefanie A. Black of Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman to float a lawsuit in the Southern District of Florida against a water sports company and its managers in the Florida Keys, after a jet ski accident left him with permanent head injuries.
Philippe Houtakkers enlisted in a guided group personal watercraft tour with Islamorada Watersports LLC at Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada, a village along Florida’s southernmost chain of islands.
But the May 2017 ride took a terrifying turn when Houtakkers’ 11-foot 2017 Yamaha jet ski crashed and spat him out into mangrove branches, according to the lawsuit. Houtakkers’ attorney Margulies said the tour guide initially didn’t realize what had happened and continued with the group, before eventually realizing Houtakkers wasn’t there and sending a rescue crew.
The lawsuit points the finger at the tour guide, Islamorada Watersports and its affiliated companies Seven Marine Sports LLC and Flying Fish Flight School Inc. and their managers. It alleges five counts of negligence against the defendants, claiming they advertised their jet ski tours as being novice-friendly but failed to properly show the group how to use the machines safely.
Winds were about 10 to 15 miles per hour, according to the lawsuit, which also accuses the tour guide of encouraging the group to maintain a speed that was “too fast,” despite large waves and rough waters.
The defendants declined to comment, saying they had not yet been served.
A South Florida problem?
The company did distribute a safety checklist for customers to sign but Margulies argues that wasn’t enough because under Florida Statutes 327.54 and 327.395, known as the Livery statutes, Houtakkers should have received a boater-education course.
“Let’s face it, when there’s 20 people that are going on a jet ski tour, and there’s one person that’s behind the counter in a hut and they basically pass the thing out to people and say, ‘You just need to initial in all these boxes and give it back to us,’ people don’t even read it,” Margulies said.
This case reflects an ongoing problem in South Florida, according to Margulies, who said most people don’t know how dangerous it is to get on a jet ski without understanding its unique characteristics.
“If you’re in a car and you’re coming up on an obstacle, you would likely slow down your vehicle and you would turn away from the obstacle. A jet ski works quite the opposite,” Margulies said. “If you’re coming up to an obstacle you have to increase your throttle and turn away, otherwise your jet ski won’t adequately turn.”
Shareholder at one of the largest plaintiffs maritime firms in the U.S., Margulies said he sees jet ski accident cases regularly — and when there’s an injury, it’s usually serious or fatal.
Houtakkers is back in the U.K., according to Margulies, but suffered a brain bleed, several back and wrist fractures and had to have surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Considering the severity of his clients’ injuries, Margulies said it wouldn’t be unusual for compensation to reach six or seven figures.