Stephen Hasner | Product Liability | August 4, 2020
A recent high school graduate and a skydiving instructor tragically lost their lives during a tandem jump on July 12, 2020. The skydiving accident happened in Upson County.
Jeanna Renee Triplicata was 18 years old. She looked forward to starting her freshman year at the University of North Georgia in August.
Before she began her college career, Jeanna had three things she wanted to accomplish. Skydiving was on her bucket list. Jeanna and her grandmother decided to skydive on Sunday.
Jeanna and Nick Esposito, her skydiving instructor, were performing a tandem dive. They were attached to a parachute rig. Esposito, 35 years old, was an experienced skydiver working for Skydive Atlanta.
According to Jeanna’s family, they saw Jeanna’s parachute spinning out of control, but did not witness the landing. Upson Sheriff Dan Kilgore confirmed that Jeanna and Esposito died in the accident. They landed in a field on Rocky Bottom Road around 12:45 p.m. near the Thomaston-Upson County Airport.
The parachute did not open correctly. The emergency parachute failed to deploy until they were close to the ground. The FAA and local authorities continue to investigate the skydiving accident.
How Often Do Parachute Accidents Happen in the United States?
According to the United States Parachute Association (USPA), there were 15 skydiving fatalities in 2019. From 2009 through 2019, the USPA reports a total of 223 deaths from skydiving.
Over three million jumps are recorded each year. Therefore, the number of skydiving fatalities per 100,000 jumps is below one percent. However, for the families and loved ones, the statistics are not comforting.
Skydiving and Parachute Accident Injuries
In addition to fatal injuries, people suffer non-fatal injuries in skydiving accidents. For some individuals, the injuries sustained in a skydiving accident can result in permanent impairments and disabilities.
Common injuries sustained in parachute and skydiving accidents include, but are not limited to:
- Broken bones
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Skull fractures
- Spinal cord injuries
- Back and neck injuries
Seeking compensation for skydiving accidents begins with determining why the accident occurred.
Why Do Skydiving Accidents Happen?
Skydiving accidents can occur for a variety of reasons. A thorough investigation often reveals the factors that contributed to the cause of the accident. Common factors that can contribute to a skydiving accident include:
- Improper packing of the parachute
- Defective cords
- Equipment malfunction
- Harness failure
- Incorrect calculations of balance and weight
- Lack of training and experience
- Negligent pre-flight safety checks
- Inadequate or negligent maintenance of equipment
- Failing to follow safety protocols
Human error and malfunctioning equipment are common causes of skydiving accidents. Negligence and product liability laws help hold parties accountable for errors and wrongdoing that result in deaths and injuries.
Who is Liable for a Skydiving Accident?
Depending on the facts of the case, an instructor, skydiving company, pilot, or manufacturer could be liable for damages from a skydiving accident. However, holding some of these parties liable for damages may require proving that the parties were grossly negligent or recklessly endangered the person’s life.
Fighting Waivers of Liability
Skydiving has certain risks. Most skydiving companies require customers to sign waivers acknowledging these risks and holding the company and its employees harmless for any injuries, losses, or damages caused by an accident.
However, waivers do not protect parties from all liability. If a victim can prove that the party recklessly disregarded safety procedures and failed to act with a reasonable standard of care to prevent injuries, a court might find that the waiver does not apply.
Likewise, if a victim can prove that the company or party was grossly negligent, a waiver of liability may not apply. Gross negligence usually means that the party acted in a manner that wantonly or willfully disregarded the safety of others.
However, overcoming the waiver of liability can be challenging. It is challenging to win any personal injury case in which a victim signed a liability waiver. Most liability waivers explicitly state that the person waiving liability agrees not to sue the company or its employees in the event of an injury.
An exception to a waiver of liability exists for individuals who are mentally incapacitated, intoxicated, or signed the waiver under pressure or duress. The waiver may be voided under these circumstances.
Waivers Do Not Release Product Liability Claims
Waivers would not protect manufacturers from liability if a defective piece of equipment contributed to the cause of the skydiving accident. Victims can pursue a product liability claim against the manufacturer of another party responsible for the defective equipment.
Victims have an uphill battle to prove that the circumstances surrounding the accident exceed the protection offered by the waiver of liability. An experienced personal injury attorney can review the waiver and investigate the accident to determine if there is a valid legal claim to pursue.