Facts of the Case
Our client and her boyfriend were staying at the Hawk’s Cay Resort located on Duck Key in the Florida Keys. During their stay, the couple wanted to rent a motor boat and go to one of the mangrove islands to have a romantic picnic. The resort has a marina and an on-site boat rental building. The person at the rental window told the couple that he would not rent them the motor boat due to their inexperience calling them “landlubbers” and suggested they rent canoes at the nearby Long Key Florida State Park. The couple decided to go back to their room to figure out the location of the State Park that rents canoes. Given the late hour of the day, they thought it was too late to rent the canoes and instead decided to “do the Jet Ski thing.” The boyfriend called the rental window to see if they could rent personal watercrafts and was told to come down right away. They went back to the rental window, paid to participate in a guided tour and were given an activity release to sign. They signed the release and began the tour. The tour guide lead the couple under the Toms Harbor Cut Bridges to the Gulf of Mexico side of U.S. 1, around a mangrove island and then towards the Toms Harbor Channel Bridges just west of the Toms Harbor Cut Bridges. There are two bridges at Toms Harbor Channel. One with vertical supports providing a wide passageway (newer bridge). The second bridge is made up of arch supports providing a much narrower passageway (older bridge). Before going under the Toms Harbor Channel Bridges and moments before the accident, the tour guide instructed the couple to follow him and to go fast. While following the tour guide as instructed, our client lost control of the personal watercraft and collided with a concrete arch of the second Toms Harbor Channel Bridge. The impact caused our client to suffer sever physical as well as a traumatic brain injury.
Injury Releases & The Law
Our attorneys filed a negligence lawsuit based upon how the tour was conducted. Hawk’s Cay sought to be relieved from liability based upon the activity release our client signed at the rental window before the accident.
Releases which attempt to relieve a party of his or her own negligence are generally looked upon with disfavor under maritime law as well as Florida law. As such, the law requires that these releases to be strictly construed against the party claiming to be relieved of liability. The subject release contained several misspelling and contradictory terms which our attorneys argued that a reasonable educated person would not know what rights she was signing away prior to the personal watercraft accident. After extensive briefing and oral argument, the Court accepted our argument and found the personal watercraft injury release was unenforceable as a matter of law. As part of its ruling, the Court entered an lengthy Order granting summary judgment finding in our client’s favor as to all defenses based upon the pre-injury release.
Import of the Ruling
Pre-accident injury releases often times are found enforceable by courts. However, if the personal watercraft tour or rental company fails to draft a legally sufficient release, the court will find the release legally insufficient and unenforceable. As such, our lawyers practicing in the area of recreational personal watercraft accident law take great care in reviewing a release signed by their client in order to determine the likelihood of whether the release will be enforced.
Our firm has an impressive track record in successfully arguing the several form releases circulated in Florida are unenforceable. If you or a loved one was injured in a Florida personal watercraft accident and would like to know your legal rights, feel free to contact us for a free case evaluation.