It’s a favorite summer pastime – tubing on the open water with friends and family – but the familiar activity turned tragic on Wednesday for four teenagers who were tubing on Long Island Sound in Connecticut when two of the girls fell off of their tubes and became entangled in the boat’s propeller.
Emily Fedorko, 16, of Old Greenwich was killed and another girl was injured, requiring “extensive stitching” on her leg. Her name has not been released.
According to the New York Times, the girls operating the boat immediately pulled their friends aboard and docked it at the Old Greenwich Yacht Club, where they were met by emergency workers. Fedorko sustained severe injuries to her torso and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police divers were on the scene throughout the evening, but Lt. Kraig Gray of the Greenwich Police Department says, “We believe this to be nothing more than a horrifically tragic accident, and alcohol doesn’t appear to be part of it.”
All four girls were students at Greenwich High School and the school district will provide counseling for students affected by the tragedy at Eastern Middle School and Greenwich High School.
Under Connecticut law, all individuals operating a boat must have a safe boating certificate, which requires the individual to attend 10 hours of class before obtaining the certificate. The driver of the boat did have her safe boating certificate.
According to researchers at the Center of Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, water-tubing related injuries have increased 250% since 1991, when only 2,068 injuries were reported. By 2009, the number had grown to 7,216, or approximately 65 water tubing-related injuries a day during the summer.
The coverage issues involved in an accident like this are similar to the exposures of teen driver involved in a car accident. “Assuming that the boat owner carried liability insurance, claims would be made against this policy, and since there were two people injured, the aggregate limit would apply,” explains Gary Jennings, principal of Strategic Claims Direction, LLC. “The death claim will have a much larger value than the other injury, so it will take up the lion’s share of the policy limits.”
Damages sought in Fedorko’s death could include pain and suffering for the period she survived after her injury and the loss of consortium for her parents. “For the injured teenager it would include medical bills, potentially permanent disability, lost wages if she was employed and loses pay, and pain and suffering,” says Jennings.
There could also be an investigation into potential product liability says claims consultant and author, Chris Tidball. How did the tube come into contact with the propeller? Was the boat at full throttle? Was the driver in control? Was the tube properly attached and at the proper distance from the boat? He sees two possible claims from the accident involving the fatality and the personal injury of the other minor.
“Who pays for the economic and non-economic loss will be governed by specific state law, or potentially admiralty law, and may involve the vessel owners being held vicariously liable,” says Tidball. He recommends that boat owners always have enough coverage, have proper certifications and act responsibly.
According to NBCConnecticut.com, the Greenwich Police Department Marine Section will continue to investigate and the accident reconstruction will be conducted by the State Environmental Conservation Police.