Riding a jet ski is like being strapped to a water-based rocket. The thrill of slicing through the water is exhilarating with the whiff of danger always near. The darker side of these devices is that they can be very dangerous, particularly when placed in the hands of young, inexperienced riders. In response, many municipalities require that operators take a boating safety course that familiarizes them with the proper operation and potential dangers associated with jet skis. So far, so good. But is the local municipality liable for failing to confirm that an operator has taken the required course when the jet ski is launched from a city owned ramp?
No so according to the New Jersey Appellate Division. In Lynch v. Ocean City, a sixteen year was given a jet ski that her uncle had borrowed from a friend. It was uncontested that neither the uncle nor his niece were experienced in the operation of jet skis or had taken the required boat safety course. Tragically, the niece died after crashing the jet ski into a dock, sustaining fatal head injuries.
Relying on the immunities provided by the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, the court held that the Ocean City ramp attendant did not have a duty to check to see if the teenaged operator had taken the required course before letting her use the City’s boat ramp. More specifically, the City did not have a legal obligation to enforce the training course ordinance and could not be liable for allegedly failing to properly supervise the boat ramp on the day in question.
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