Hodson v. Taylor – Paralyzed Swimmer Can Sue Owners of Boat and Lake

Boating accidents in North Carolina inevitably rise as the weather warms and more people take to the water. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission reports the number of boating accidents has hovered around 155 the last several years, while fatalities have ranged from 21 to 25 between 2009 and 2012. Additionally, another 100 or so were injured and required medical attention.
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July is the peak month in which accidents occur, with most fatalities and serious injuries attributed to a fall or jump overboard.

That’s exactly what happened to plaintiff in Hodson v. Taylor, a teen who was on a private lake in a boat owned by a friend’s parents. The teens were unsupervised and consuming alcohol, according to court records, when he jumped into the murky lake and struck the shallow bottom, rendering him paralyzed. He hadn’t realized that part of the lake would be so shallow. There were no warnings, and they had stopped several times earlier at different locations to swim with no issues.

The teen later filed an injury lawsuit in Nebraska (where this incident took place) against the parents who owned the boat, the homeowners’ association that owned and maintained the lake and the original owners/creators of the lake, who had deeded the property to the association.

Records from the homeowners’ association meeting indicated the association may have known a dangerous condition existed on the lake. At a meeting that took place well in advance of this incident, board members discussed the fact that retention walls weren’t holding up as they should, which meant the lake’s edge was creeping out farther on all sides. This meant the shallow portions of the lake stretched out farther as well, though the depth was not consistent at each distance.

Against the parents/boat owners, he alleged negligence in the form of failure to warn users of the lake of its dangerous and shallow conditions, and also in allowing their daughter and guests to use the boat without supervision, despite her inexperience as an operator, particularly given the dangerous condition of the lake.

Against the creators/original owners of the lake, he alleged failure to maintain sufficient and safe water depths, failure to warn users of unsafe conditions, failure to enforce safety regulations and failing to publish rules and regulations concerning jumping off boats and failure to properly construct the lake.

Against the association, he alleged much of the same as what he did in his complaint against the creators of the lake.

All defendants moved for summary judgment, and it was granted by trial court, which found the claims barred under that state’s recreational liability act, which essentially states people who engage in certain recreational activities assume the risks. Further, the court indicated the lake creators hadn’t owned the lake for four years prior to the incident, and had no control over it. Further, the association couldn’t be responsible for an open and obvious danger.

On appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed, finding the recreational liability act did not apply in this case, and further, the question of whether the danger was open and obvious is a question of fact for a jury – not a matter of law for the judge. It shouldn’t have been decided on summary judgment. However, the court did affirm summary judgment as it related to the lake creators, as they had no control over the property at the time of the accident, and responsibility for any inherently dangerous condition they’d created was assumed by the association at the time ownership of the lake was transferred.

Contact our North Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Hodson v. Taylor, March 13, 2015, Nebraska Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Study: Child Toys Cause Injury Every 3 Minutes in U.S., Feb. 23, 2015, Charlotte Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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