Boat owner seeks to have lawsuit over diving injury that left man paralyzed dismissed
LACONIA — A judge is being asked to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a former Chichester man who became quadriplegic when he broke his neck after diving off a boat into shallow water.
Samuel Brown, 27, who now lives in Charlestown, Mass., hit his head on the sandy bottom of Lake Winnisquam on Sept. 1, 2013, according to a claim for civil damages filed in Belknap County Superior Court in August 2016.
Attorney Bruce Marshall of Concord claims Hugh Shaffer, 57, of Norwood, Mass., who owns a lakeside home in Sanbornton, planned to boat to the sandbar, drop anchor and swim.
Brown was dating Shaffer’s daughter at the time, and was invited to come along.
As they approached the sandbar, the suit claims that Shaffer asked Brown for help, and told him to jump into the water to set the anchor as he slowed the 21-foot Maxum, with six people aboard.
The suit alleges that Brown had never been to the sandbar and Shaffer never told Brown of any of the procedures for anchoring the boat or swimming at the large sandbar, which is a popular spot for both activities.
A hearing on a defense motion to dismiss the complaint was scheduled for May 23, but has been postponed until June 20.
In support of allowing the case to proceed to trial, Marshall argues that his client was relying on Shaffer’s directions. He maintains that it was Shaffer’s negligent operation of the boat that resulted in the injuries.
Brown’s lawyer maintains Shaffer violated boating regulations by having Brown stand on the gunnel while the boat was still moving.
“To a new and inexperienced boater, the dangers that resulted in his injuries were not obvious,” Marshall wrote.
But defense attorney Christine Friedman of Concord asserts that the incident was a tragic accident. She said Brown unexpectedly dove head-first into three feet of water. The clarity of the water made the bottom clearly visible and other swimmers were standing waist-deep nearby, Friedman wrote.
The defense maintains that Brown’s choice to dive was not foreseeable when Shaffer asked for help in setting the anchor, and that Shaffer cannot be found negligent and is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center reports that 800 Americans — primarily teens and young adult males — are permanently paralyzed annually as a result of diving accidents.
Half of these spinal cord injuries result in quadriplegia. Diving is the single largest cause of sports-related spinal cord injuries.