“Ethan’s Law” Named for Sarasota Boy Killed in Boating Accident

In November, a tragic situation occurred when a Sarasota, Florida youth sailor was fatally slashed by a spinning boat propeller after his coach triggered the throttle and the boy tumbled overboard.

Ten-year-old Ethan Isaacs’ death has led to a wrongful death lawsuit by his family and a proposed bill in his name called “Ethan’s Law,” authored by Sarasota state Rep. Fiona McFarland.

The proposed legislation would require the pilots of boats less than 26 feet long to wear a kill switch device that automatically shuts off the engine if the operator is thrown overboard. Seven other states have similar laws in place, and the U.S. Coast Guard will adopt the same rule in 2021. It is wrongful death boating accidents just like this one that Schrier Law Group takes on.

Who Was Ethan, and What Happened

Ethan, a sixth-grader at Pine View School for the Gifted in Osprey, was taking part in a Sarasota Youth Sailing Inc. sail practice when his boat capsized. His coach, 18-year-old Riley Baugh, came to his aid in a 20-foot Caribe Nautica inflatable powerboat.

Baugh was bailing water out of Ethan’s boat when he accidentally struck the throttle, causing the boat to lurch forward and throw him overboard. The steel propeller fatally wounded Ethan and hurt two other youth sailors.

McFarland was approached by Ethan’s parents shortly after his death and together they created the bill to address boating safety issues that could prevent future tragedies from occurring.

What Does the Bill Entail

Rep. McFarland has received wide support for the bill. She worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, boat owners associations, boat manufacturers, and other marine safety stakeholders to craft the bill’s language.

 

“Whenever there’s a tragedy, particularly when a young child dies, you always wonder what could have been done to prevent it from happening,” McFarland said. “I’m honored to be working with the Issacs family to make the Florida waterways safer.”

Florida regularly ranks as the number one state for boating accidents and fatalities, according to recent government reports. There have been 95 formal reports of accidents involving a boat operator falling overboard, 79 that resulted in someone injured or killed, according to McFarland.

The legislation would allow the FWC and law enforcement officers on waterways to enforce the same rules that the Coast Guard follows at the federal level: ensuring boaters are wearing their engine cutoff switch lanyard or have an operational wireless kill switch.

Boat manufacturers have been federally required to equip new vessels with an engine cutoff switch since 2018.

The Lawsuit

A little over a month after Ethan’s death in November, Tampa-based personal injury attorneys filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of the Isaacs.

The 22-page complaint filed in Sarasota County circuit court blames SYS and Baugh for negligence, poor training and a lack of supervision that ultimately cost Ethan his life.

Baugh is believed to be the only coach in charge of the Optimist Green Fleet that Ethan was a member of along with 15 other youth sailors.

According to the suit, Ethan was training with the Green Fleet, a collection of youth sailors who met prerequisites set by SYS to sail Optimist sailing vessels on open water. The Optimist, also called an “opti,” is a small, single-handed sailing dinghy about the size of a bathtub.

They launched in choppy but navigable waters under the supervision of Baugh, who was certified as a Small Boat Instructor Level 2 by U.S. Sailing in January 2020. He holds CPR and First Aid certifications. Baugh also has a SafeSport certification to promote a safe and positive environment free from abuse and misconduct.

The complaint said Baugh’s boat was equipped with a fully operational emergency outboard engine stop switch, stop-switch key and accompanying lanyard. The kill-switch key allows electricity to flow to the engine while the key is secured.

After Baugh became aware that a child’s boat was taking on water, he piloted his powerboat alongside. He left the controls of his vessel and leaned over the side of the boat to bail water out of the Optimist dinghy. However, Baugh had not turned the engine off and, while he bailed water, he unintentionally struck the throttle and the boat moved forward, causing him to fall out.

The unmanned boat struck multiple youth members of the green fleet, including Ethan, who was fatally injured. Baugh was able to regain control of the boat.

The wrongful death action is seeking in excess of $30,000 on behalf of Ethan’s estate. Beneficiaries of the monetary claim are his mother and father. Ethan also has an older brother who was sailing nearby at the time of the accident.

Boating accident death cases can be emotional, tragic, and unfair. When emotions run high, it can be difficult to make a strategic decision when choosing the perfect personal injury lawyer. In order to be prepared, develop a list of trustworthy attorneys that you can call when an emergency occurs.

The Schrier Law Group handles many boating injury cases, and Schrier Law has the resources necessary to help you and your family score a successful outcome in any boating injury case. It is important that you have your rights defended by someone who knows the law. Contact the Schrier Law Group for a personal injury attorney in Florida today!