A 19-year-old young woman, identified as Sarah Flanagan of League City, Texas was killed when the personal watercraft she was operating on Choctawhatchee Bay was struck by a 30-foot boat operated by 76-year-old Johnny Pope of Shalimar, Florida.
Per news reports, Flanagan was visiting Destin, Florida from Texas and had rented the personal watercraft she was operating. At the time the accident occurred, she was riding with a group of people.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s initial report, the two vessels collided at a 90-degree angle and upon impact, Flanagan was thrown from the watercraft. A person accompanying Flanagan jumped in the water, pulled her onto his personal watercraft and took her to a nearby marina where he met EMS. Flanagan suffered extensive head injuries and was pronounced dead at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center. At this time the report does not indicate who was at fault. Per FWC, there were no signs of impairment in either operator.
We sincerely extend our sympathies and condolences to Sarah Flanagan’s family and loved ones.
As more details emerge, it will be important to learn whether the company that rented Flanagan the personal watercraft she was operating complied with all Florida laws and appropriately provided Flanagan prerental or preride instruction regarding topics such as the operational characteristics of the vessel and safe vessel operation and right-of-way.
The State of Florida regulates liveries by way of section 327.54 of the Florida Statutes. Subject to certain exceptions, it prohibits the rental of a personal watercraft to any person who is required to comply with section 327.395, Florida Statutes. The latter statute, requires persons born on or after January 1, 1988 to complete a commission-approved boater education course that meets the minimum 8-hour instruction requirement established by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.
Given Flanagan’s age, prior to renting a personal watercraft to her, the company should have confirmed she had a boater safety identification card issued by the commission. Since Flanagan was not a Florida resident, she would have had to prove she completed a boater education course or equivalency examination in another state which meets or exceeds Florida’s requirements.
Unfortunately, accidents while operating personal watercrafts are common in Florida waters. The attorneys at Brais Brais Rusak are experienced and knowledgeable in the intricacies of the law involving such accidents. If you or a loved one has been injured while on a personal watercraft tour or rental, contact us, we are here to help.