Shark Feeding Death triggers debatePosted: November 18, 2008
A 49 year old Austrian attorney died after being bitten by a shark in the Bahamas with Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures (JASA). The deceased was on a shark feeding trip where the sharks are baited using chum and the participants are not in cages. The shark apparently missed the food, bit the leg of the deceased and released him. However he bled out before he could be transported to help. See When Adventure Tourism Kills, Tourist’s death sparks shark-diving debate and Sharing the Truth About the Shark “Attack” in the Bahamas.
Shark watching is big business. It has grown substantially over the past several years. Florida has numerous shark feeding businesses; however Florida law does not allow chumming. The (JASA) had moved from Florida to the Bahamas allegedly to avoid the law.
Ignoring the issues of training sharks to associate food with boats and humans the articles have tackled numerous legal issues, some correctly, some incorrectly.
There has been an extensive debate over the civil legal issues in this case. However the accident occurred in the Bahamas with a non-US citizen so US law does not apply. Bahamian or the law of the release (if one was used) will probably control any litigation. Admiralty law may be the law applied to the case which although more generic by country is still not US law. For more information on jurisdiction and venue See: Pennsylvania court case highlights importance of where a business is located, Jurisdiction can affect the potential outcome of a case and Choice of Law and Venue — What Law Applies and Where? (Subscription Service)
Another raging debate is the fact that cage-less shark feeding is relatively a less risk sport. A group called Shark Savers, is defending the acts by saying that shark diving is safer than many other sports. However the sports they are comparing themselves too are unguided sports. There is a higher level of care or safety expected and received from a guided trip then from an unguided trip. That is why you hire a guide, to provide you with the knowledge, skills or safety from the risks that you do not have.
Shark Savers also states that “biking, swimming and boating” have significantly more injuries a year than shark feeding. This is probably correct. However the number of hours that people spend feeding sharks a year versus biking, swimming or boating does not make a fair comparison. If shark feeding had as many people spending as many hours feeding sharks as people riding bikes then the number of injuries would be significantly more. The website is comparing apples to oranges and skewing numbers to make the sport look safe.
There are some real issues however that can be educational. The JASA website is full of statements that would be difficult to support during any accident or could lead to liability in this case. The JASA statements include:
Three prominent statements telling possible guests that they will be safe. And yet someone died. Either the website is wrong, guilty of over promoting itself or this was a rare accident, which statistics show is not true.
On top of that is the fact JASA is a Florida based business. The website is quite clear that they are based in Florida and have a Bahamas operation. If you serve the business in Florida then Florida law may apply, absent a specific jurisdiction and venue clause in a release. Even if there is a release signed by any victim a complaint alleging negligence per se, because of the violation of the regulations may be successful in brining the defendant under Florida law.