Zac's mother contacted Bellingham personal injury attorney Bill Coats to seek a second opinion after her initial lawyer advised that a wrongful death claim was not worth pursuing. Since her son Zac had died in a jet-ski accident when he and his friend collided, the other lawyer concluded that the claim had no value. Bill determined that homeowners insurance provided coverage for failure to supervise use of a jet-ski while the family was on vacation. The Estate of Zachary Springer recovered $2.5 million for his tragic death in the jet-ski accident.
The claim arose when Zac was invited to accompany a friend and his father on vacation. The friend’s father and his adult friends had rented two houseboats, a ski boat, and two jet skis, signing a rental agreement that explicitly prohibited use of the jet skis by anyone under 18. State law requires that minors use jet skis only after being trained and certified, and then only under close adult supervision. Instead of supervising Zac and his friend, the father partied while letting the 15-year-old boys ride the jet skis, contrary to the rental contract, state law, and common sense.
The tragedy occurred on the afternoon of the first full day of the vacation on a lake similar to Lake Whatcom, in Bellingham. This was Zac’s first use of a jet ski ever, and he was operating with absolutely no adult supervision more than a mile from the anchored houseboats. The boys were operating their jet skis at about 25 m.p.h. when Zac’s friend t-boned Zac’s jet ski, which then stopped in the water. Zac was hit and knocked off the jet-ski. His friend jumped into the water to hold the unconscious Zac afloat. They were in the water together for nearly 30 minutes before help arrived.
According to investigators, it took 20 minutes for the “adult supervisors” to get a ski boat launched to rescue the boys, and another 20 minutes of CPR before they could figure out how to work the marine radio, either because no one knew how to operate the radio, because there was something wrong with this particular marine radio, or because the operators were too intoxicated to figure it out.
Liability arose from the father’s failure to supervise his son, but also from the father’s failure to supervise Zac’s use of the jet-ski after his parents allowed the father to act in loco parentis, promising to take responsibility for Zac’s safety during the vacation. Punitive damages were requested for “…conduct that manifests a knowing and reckless indifference toward, and a disregard of, the rights of others.”
An investigation determined that the rental agent who gave the jet ski instruction noticed that “…they wasn’t (sic) interested so much in my instruction. I felt they just wanted to leave quick…” Although the rental party “…indicated to me they were experienced boaters…,” at the time the houseboats were turned over, people were already “drinking and partying…” In fact, the members of the rental party were not experienced boaters.
Several witnesses at the scene verified that the father knew that no one under 18 was allowed to use the jet skis and that the two boys had not attended the boating safety course required by Utah law or obtained the required boating safety certificate. In sum, the adult’s failure to supervise the young boys on the powerful machines led to Zac’s death.
The claim was brought the state wrongful death statute. Recoverable damages included funeral and medical expenses, the value of services the decedent might have rendered to the household, the amount of money the deceased child might have earned, if his projected income would have exceeded the cost of his maintenance and care, and the loss of society, companionship, protection and affection, which constitutes the heart of the action. The State Constitution provides that the amount recoverable for a wrongful death claim can never be limited, so there is no limitation on a jury determination of value.
The recovery came from the entire policy limits of the friend’s father’s homeowners’ policy, a source of recovery found when Zac’s mother sought a second opinion from Bellingham lawyer Bill Coats.
If you've been involved in an accident that may have been caused by someone else's negligence, you have more options than you might know. Contact Bill for a free consultation about your case. For more information about his approach, visit the Practice Areas page on wrongful death claims.