Sharks are terrifying, which is why so many movies are made about them terrorizing us. But some people won’t be satisfied with the thrill of film and must see these creatures up close, and sometimes those who swim with sharks get hurt.
A federal judge last week denied a motion to dismiss from defendants associated with a maritime tour that takes people to swim with sharks. The plaintiff says she was bitten by a shark when her allegedly drunk dive instructor negligently fed the creature bait that led it to her, and the court is allowing her claim to go forward under federal maritime law.
The Legal Issue
At issue, according to the defendants, was jurisdiction, or whether the case should be heard in federal court under maritime law. They argued against it, saying there was no nexus between the incident and the maritime activity involved. According to Courthouse News Service, for a maritime claim to survive a motion to dismiss, it must pass the relationship test, showing a connection between the incident and maritime activity. In other words, the incident must be connected to commerce and navigation on the high seas or other navigable waters.
The court found such a relationship in this case, writing, “All defendants benefited from [the plaintiff] paying a fee to travel in a boat in the ocean to a location where the dive leader guided her and others on a cage-free expedition with sharks. Her activity, and consequent injury, depended on the relationship of the parties; she could not have participated in the activity if any of the four named parties were absent.”
For the plaintiff, this is a win, but it’s just the beginning. She must still prove her case, showing that the defendants’ negligence caused her injury in order to recover damages. In her claim, she argues that her dive instructor was drunk when he fed bait to a nearby shark who then chomped on her calf.
The defendants disagree. They don’t characterize the injury as a bite and deny the dive instructor was drunk. Counsel for two of the defendants told Courthouse News Service that the plaintiff’s injury is not a shark bite but a laceration resulting from a bad encounter with a wild animal.
Sure, that sounds like an elaborate way to describe a shark bite injury. But that is for the judge or a jury to decide when the case proceeds to trial.
If you were injured due to the negligence of another, talk to a lawyer. Tell your story. Many personal injury attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to talk.