Boating company involved in accident that left man without his legs has history of injured participants

Boating company involved in accident that left man without his legs has history of injured participants

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The Myrtle Beach parasailing company involved in an accident that left one man without his legs has been connected to numerous personal injury lawsuits throughout the years.

"It's frightening in terms of what I see, especially with the most recent accident," attorney Clay Hopkins said.

Hopkins is involved with a case where a woman injured her foot while parasailing with Sage Sailing Inc. in 2014.

Sage Sailing Inc. is the company that owns the boats involved with the recent investigation, according to U.S. Coast Guard documents. The company's Better Business page links to Ocean Watersports website.

Hopkins said the woman was coming back into the boat when she broke her ankle.

WMBF Investigates found numerous lawsuits connected with the company dating back to 2000. Court documents uncover incidents of participants falling off the raft, landing too hard on the boat and seriously injuring their feet and legs.

A look into the U.S. Coast Guard's Incident Investigative Reports reveal further instances of Sage Sail's boats involved with passenger injuries along with an instance of failing to report a marine casualty.

While participants do sign waivers before parasailing, Hopkins explains a company can still be liable if it was "grossly negligent" or acting in "reckless disregard".

"We certainly believe they were grossly negligent. They don't provide any training, any safety instruction to passengers out there except for a video they play on loop in the office," Hopkins explained. "They don't require customers to sit down and watch it."

Other lawsuits against Sage Sailing draw attention to the lack of safety instructions and carelessness.

WMBF reached out to Ocean Watersports on Monday, but the company was not available to comment on its safety procedures.

Mark Theriault with Grand Sail and Power Squadron, an organization that provides safety and inspections to boats, said it is essential for passengers to receive proper instructions before boarding a boat.

"It's incredibly preventable," Theriault said. "Somebody, someplace, really dropped the ball."

Theriault said passengers have to be able to understand everything that will take place when agreeing to go out on the water and take responsibility to ask about what could go wrong.

The U.S. Coast Guard briefly suspended Ocean Watersports' operations on July 13. Business resumed after the company addressed safety concerns.

Hopkins said he is subpoenaing the U.S. Coast Guard for the documents the company provided to alleviate safety concerns.

"It's very alarming to me because I know what they've provided to me as evidence of what they're employees go through in terms of safety training and it's not much," Hopkins said.

Coast Guard Lt. J.B. Zorn said while the business is operating normally, the investigation is still underway. Zorn also said a company and a boat's history during the investigation.

Part of the investigation involves testing crew members for drug and alcohol following an accident. Zorn said this is a significant issue in this case. A few members of the crew involved with Owens' accident did fail the test and one employee attempted to tamper with the samples, according to Zorn.

The Coast Guard's investigation into the company is still collecting evidence.

According to Zorn, as a result of this investigation, the Coast Guard plans on increasing awareness of parasailing dangers and plans to release an industry wide safety alert specifically speaking to transporting passengers to parasailing boats.

"Water sports activities have an inherent risk, but the majority of water sport operators and commercial vessel operators are very safety conscious," Zorn said. "So, when we see these causalities we know this is by no means a representative sample of every other commercial operator out there."

Copyright 2018 WMBF News. All rights reserved.