|Posted by Injury Lawyers of Ontario on August 27, 2016
Wakeboarding is a sport that entails riding on a short, wide board that resembles a surfboard while the rider is being pulled behind a motorboat. It also often involves performing acrobatic maneuvers. We begin with this definition because this is a relatively new sport with which many Canadians may be unfamiliar, let alone be aware that a person could be gravely injured or even killed while participating in this activity.
Such was the case very recently, when 23-year old, Erik Belanger suffered a "freak" wakeboarding injury, one so severe that what was left of his mangled left leg had to be amputated below the knee. Erik was wakeboarding with friends on the Detroit River, being pulled by his dad's pontoon boat that sported two outboard motors. When his wakeboarding session was over, Erik paddled up to the rear of the idling pontoon boat in order climb onboard. As he threw his wakeboard up onto the boat, the board accidentally hit the throttle sending the vessel full-speed into reverse and running over Erik. The propellers from the massive 300-horsepower engines tore into his flesh, mangling his leg not unlike an attack from a shark. Those aboard the boat thought Erik was joking at first when he screamed out in pain but were horrified when seeing the enormous amount of blood in the water surrounding Erik. Quick thinking saved Erik's life as he was lifted onto the boat and a tourniquet applied to slow the bleeding from his mangled limb. The boat captain radioed for help and it was waiting for them as the boat sped back to shore.
Although uncommon, severe wakeboarding accidents and even fatalities can and do occur. Erik isn't the only wakeboarder in North America to have his life drastically altered or suffer fatal injuries in a "freak" water boarding accident. In the U.S., 32-year-old Brian Edwards died of injuries he received in a wakeboarding accident on Lake Sonoma where he was apparently struck in the head by his wakeboard while attempting a flipping maneuver. In another incidence, 27-year-old New Zealander, Brad Smeele was left quadriplegic after shattering his C4 vertebrae while attempting a backflip during training at a wake park in Lake Ronix in Orlando, Florida.
Canadians love water sports and many of us participate in some form every summer, whether boating, waterskiing, swimming or in another activity. Over 40% of Ontario residents report participating in one water-related activity or another and although many accidents are preventable, they unfortunately occur fairly frequently. The most important ways to reduce the occurance of a water-related accident is to always wear a floatation device and never consume alcohol or drugs while boating. In addition, common sense and due care must be exercised at all times to safely enjoy the water.
Boat operators and owners must remain aware that they are ultimately responsible for safety to their passengers. If a negligent action, such as driving while impaired, failure to provide mandated safety equipment such as life preservers, reckless driving or a poorly maintained boat, results in injury to a passenger, the boat owner/operator may be held liable for any injuries.
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