Articles Posted in Resort Tort

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On Sunday March 18, 2012, Alanna Demella, 26, from Medford, Massachusetts, was tragically killed while on vacation in Ft. Lauderdale when an out-of-control vehicle traveling on a nearby roadway, slammed through a fence and crashed into the Riverside Hotel’s cabana building where Alanna was changing at the time. She was seven months pregnant and her husband was just feet away when the awful collision destroyed two support pillars and a wall of the cabana, taking the lives of the young woman and her unborn son.

Clip_s9_resize.jpgWhile at first blush this horrific resort-related death seems like a freak accident and the unfortunate luck of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, the causes of the accident certainly are not yet fully established. From a Personal Injury/Wrongful Death lawyers standpoint, the investigation as to the causative factors is much wider than just looking at the fault of the driver and her negligent operation of the vehicle. As is often the case in Florida, people carry minimal automobile insurance or sometimes none at all. Even someone with full coverage does not likely have enough in policy limits to cover the tremendous damages that this case would entail. Therefore for the Personal Injury/Wrongful Death lawyer, it is crucial to act as quickly as possible to preserve the scene and gather evidence than may no longer exist if left in the hands of nature or potential defendants. There may be other responsible parties that could have prevented this foreseeable incident. For example if there were prior crashes in the area or if the building structure was unsafe and building codes, permits and standards were violated. That is why it is of the utmost importance for the grieving family to act promptly in retaining counsel who specializes in these types of cases. Especially where the victim’s relatives are from out of state. This will allow for the family to put the work in the lawyer’s hands while they tend to the grieving process.

Leesfield Scolaro is one of the leading resort tort law firms in Florida. Our Resort Tort attorneys have helped countless out-of-state clients who were victims of resort-related incidents similar to the ones the Demella family is now sadly involved in. While Florida in general, and South Florida in particular, is a very popular destination for tourists, incidents do occur with frequency. Consequently, Ira Leesfield helped creating and currently serves as Chairman of the Resort Tort Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice (AAJ).

The first thing that should be done immediately in a case like this is an inspection of the resort property, impact area and vehicle. At Leesfield Scolaro, our team of lawyers, investigators and experts are on call seven days a week. We will go to the scene to take photographs and canvas the area for possible witnesses in order to take statements. We will also act quick to contact law enforcement and other investigating agencies to obtain and exchange information. A scene inspection must be conducted with an accident reconstruction expert to establish the speed and direction which the driver was traveling when she collided with the fence, and then the pillars. Properly reconstructing the accident and understanding the facts, can lead to other viable theories of causation.

Clip12_resize.jpgAnother issue that must be investigated locally is whether the Riverside Hotel was in compliance with the Florida Building Code and whether the cabanas, as built, had been inspected and approved by the Division of Professions Building Code Administrators and Inspectors Board. A full report of prior investigations and reports must be obtained to make sure that the construction of the cabanas were in fact legal and compliant with the Florida Building Code. A building code expert must be hired to not only review the findings of those reports, but to establish whether one or multiple violations existed which may have contributed to the destruction of the two pillars that held up the hotel’s cabana building. One other important area that must be looked into is whether the proximity of the cabana building to the roadway played a part in the cause and severity of the crash and whether the cabana building’s location was in compliance with the many building code set back rules and regulations Continue reading

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On November 15, 2011, Celebrity Cruises Passenger Bernice Kraftcheck boarded the Turtle, a small boat owned and operated by Caribbean Watersports & Tours, a corporation based out of the U.S. Virgin Island, which offers parasailing excursions through Celebrity Cruises.

After the two cruise passengers boarded the Turtle, the weather became more and more menacing as the winds picked up in intensity and a heavy cluster of low clouds formed above the small bay where the parasailing experience was to take place. Despite the changes in weather and the dangerous windy conditions, the operator decided to launch Bernice and Danielle into the sky.

Moments later, as Bernice and Danielle were high up in the sky, the operator’s parasail rope broke, causing the tandem to plummet from the sky into the water. While Danielle sustained massive and catastrophic injuries, her mother Bernice sustained serious fatal injuries, eventually resulting in her death.

Read our earlier post on this accident here: Celebrity Cruises Terminates Parasail Excursion After Death of Passenger

Leesfield Scolaro has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Celebrity and against the parasail operator for their respective failures and acts of negligence. A copy of the complaint filed today in Federal Court can be obtained by clicking here.

For any media inquiry, please contact Ira Leesfield by email or by phone at 305-854-4900.

The parasailing accident attorneys of Leesfield Scolaro are nationally recognized for handling similar catastrophic parasailing accident cases in the past.

parasailing accident.jpgWithin the last five years, Ira Leesfield represented two minor sisters who also plummeted from the sky after the rope of the parasail broke off due to bad weather. One of the two sisters sustained severe permanent physical and emotional injuries. The other sister was fatally injured and despite the doctors’ efforts to keep her alive on a ventilator, she ultimately died after being in a coma for two days.

This case received national exposure with appearances on The Today Show and Inside Edition. In that case, the operator of the parasail decided to disregard weather warnings sent out over the radio to boaters and to ignore the increasingly menacing clouds and powerful winds. As soon as they were in the air, the two girls, as shown in the photo above, were dangerously close from the shore and the nearby buildings. The winds were so intense that the small boat pulling the parasail was almost beached. Ultimately, the winds were too strong for the subpar equipment, and the rope broke off, sending the two girls flying against the buildings behind them. They were uncontrollably catapulted from one building’s roof to another, before falling almost 40 feet to the ground where they were rescued by horrified witnesses.

In a more recent case handled by Thomas Scolaro, a young wife and mother sustained severe facial injuries and closely escaped losing her life by drowning after the parasail operator decided to send her up on the parasail in the middle of a forming storm, despite other owners shutting down their parasail operations at the same time.
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A property owner, such as a Hotel or Resort, has the duty to keep and maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition to provide for its guests’ safety and prevent any potential incidents. When dangerous conditions are known by the property owner or its employees, the owner must warn its guests of the hazardous condition so as to prevent any risk of injury. The property owner must also remedy, and repair the dangerous condition as soon as possible. When a property owner creates or fails to remedy a dangerous condition, and a guest is injured as a result of the owner’s failure to warn, it can be held responsible for the injuries sustained.

Aljuwon Pipkin, a 14-year-old boy, was a guest at a Hotel Resort in Orlando, Osceola County, with his family. One late afternoon, while playing with his brother in the jacuzzi/spa located on the Hotel’s property, one of the suction grates broke and Aljuwon’s body was pulled under water by the force of the suction drain. Aljuwon’s brother, who was also playing in the jacuzzi, tried to pull his brother, but Aljuwon’s body wouldn’t move. He began yelling for help. Aljuwon’s mother heard her son screaming, as did Aljuwon’s stepfather. They were only seconds from the spa and they both leaped into the water and tried to pull Aljuwon free, to no avail. The mother began screaming as she felt her son jerking in her arms, then her son’s body going limp.

For long minutes, guests and hotel employees attempted to pull Aljuwon free, but the force of the suction was too strong. Others were looking for the jacuzzi’s emergency shut-off switch, but none existed. A guest who witnessed the entire incident asked hotel employees to shut off the suction drain, but they did not know where the switch was. It turned out that the one person in charge of maintaining the spa was already gone for the day and nobody on the premises knew how to operate and turn off the jacuzzi.


At that point, the 14-year-old had been under water for more than ten minutes. That is when a fellow guest began ripping cables connected to the spa, which ultimately caused the suction to stop and allowed Aljuwon’s body to be freed. Paramedics worked on Aljuwon’s body immediately, administering emergency care and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to the unresponsive minor child. After several minutes of incessant efforts, Aljuwon was miraculously brought back to life.

Personal Injury Lawyers at Leesfield Scolaro sued the Hotel for its negligence in failing to maintain and/or replace the defective grate of the jacuzzi spa which broke when Aljuwon was using the spa. Ira Leesfield alleged that the Resort was responsible for not having installed an emergency shut-off switch which would have allowed Aljuwon to be freed within seconds, not ten minutes too late. Personal Injury Lawyer Carol Finklehoffe alleged that the hotel was also responsible for negligent training of the hotel’s employees who simply did not know how to shut off the jacuzzi’s drainage system.

As a result of the Hotel’s negligence, Aljuwon sustained brain damage requiring life-long medical care. On August 25th, 2011, the Orlando Personal Injury Attorneys at Leesfield Scolaro, Ira Leesfield and Carol Finklehoffe, on behalf of Aljuwon Pipkin and his mother, who witnessed the near drowning incident, settled this brain damage claim for a confidential amount with the Hotel Resort Defendant. It is the largest result in a pool entrapment case in Osceola County.
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