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Powerboat Accidents During 37th Annual Key West Super Boat International World Championship Leave Killing One And Injuring Three Others

The 37th Annual Key West Super Boat International World Championship took place Thursday through Sunday.  On Thursday morning, a 50-foot powerboat flipped over while heading south on the bayside of Marathon about a quarter mile of mile marker 48.5.  The 50-foot power boat made by Rhode Island manufacturer Outerlimits was part of the Florida Powerboat Club’s annual poker run, which includes boats cruising from Miami to Key West. The boat was headed to Key West for display during race weekend.  But, while on the way, it went out of control and flipped over killing one and injuring three others.

Joseph Sgro, 63, from Long Island was one of two operators of the boat at the time of the accident and was operating the throttles when the boat rolled over.  Sgro was airlifted to a Miami hospital by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Trauma Star air ambulance where he was later pronounced dead.  Three others were taken to Mariners Hospital in Tavernier with injuries including a broken shoulder blade.  The accident is still under investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  Per reports, Sgro was a longtime powerboat racer with more than a dozen national and world titles in power boating.   We extend our condolences and deepest sympathies to the family and loved ones of Mr. Sgro.

Another incident occurred on Friday amazingly resulting in no injuries. On Friday, while Race 3 of the Key West World Championship was underway, a CT Marine’s boat crashed and climbed over the rear of a CMS 3 boat and flipped over landing in Key West Harbor.  No one was hurt and the pilot of the CMS 3 vessel was able to pilot the vessel back to the dock.

Presumably, participants in a race are required to sign a release and waiver of liability.  These incidents raise the question of whether assumption of risk is a defense in cases involving injuries suffered by contestants in a maritime race or event.  In non-maritime cases, courts commonly bar recovery by event participants for injuries suffered during their participation in events such as baseball, basketball, tennis, automobile racing, etc.  See Turcotte v. Fell, 474 N.Y.S. 2d 893 (Sup. Ct. 1984).

In Manning v. Gordon, 853 F. Supp. 1187 (N.D. CA 1994), two yachts collided during a sailboat race as the two boats were rounding one of the course marks. One of the contestants filed a negligence action against the owner of the yacht deemed at fault.  The defendant raised the affirmative defense of assumption of risk and plaintiff moved to strike.  The court did a survey of applicable maritime case law and noted that there were only three cases that dealt with the application of assumption of risk to boat racing collisions. Based on the need for uniformity in admiralty law, the court found that no federal court had endorsed the application of the doctrine of assumption of risk to yacht racing, and there was no compelling reason to extend the doctrine to it. The court held that as a matter of law, the defense of assumption of risk is an invalid defense under the General Maritime Law of the United States.

Accordingly and as noted above, while non-maritime event participants may be barred from recovering for personal injuries sustained as a result of their participation in such event, in the maritime context, assumption of risk is not a valid defense under Maritime law.

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