Zachary Springer ~ 15 years, 3 months and 12 days
by Claudia McCassie Holmes
Zac's last Christmas 05 ~ he'd just said
Click on each photo to enlarge.
Zac Springer was invited to accompany a friend and his father on vacation to Lake Powell, Utah. The friend's father and his adult friends had rented two houseboats, a ski boat, and two jet skis, signing a rental agreement that explicitly prohibited use of the jet skis by anyone under 18. Utah law requires that minors use jet skis only after being trained and certified, and then only under close adult supervision. Instead of supervising Zac and his friend, the father partied while letting the 15-year-old boys ride the jet skis, contrary to the rental contract, the laws of Utah, and common sense.
The tragedy occurred on the afternoon of the first full day of the vacation. The two boys took the jet skis out around 5:00 p.m. This vacation was Zac's first use of a jet ski ever, and he was operating with absolutely no adult supervision more than a mile from the anchored houseboats. The boys were operating their jet skis at about 25 m.p.h. when Zac's friend t-boned Zac’s jet ski, which then stopped in the water. Zac was hit and knocked off the jet ski. His friend jumped into the water to hold the unconscious Zac afloat. They were in the water together for nearly 30 minutes before help arrived.
The father violated the rental agreement, Utah state law, and his promise to Zac's parents that he would supervise Zac during the vacation. Punitive damages were requested under Utah Code Title 78 Chapter 18-1 for "...conduct that manifests a knowing and reckless indifference toward, and a disregard of, the rights of others.: Behrens v. Raleigh Hills Hospital, Inc.,675 P.2d 1179 (Utah, 1983). A larger punitive damage award for a breach of trust becomes more appropriate the greater the trust placed in the defendant. Diversified Holdings, L.C. v. Turner, 63 P.3d 686, 463 Utah Adv. Rep. 66 (2002). There are few breaches of trust that can be imagined greater than leaving your child in another parent's care who then illegally sends him out to play on a jet ski.
According to investigators, it took 20 minutes for the "adult supervisors" to get a ski boat launched to rescue the boys, and another 20 minutes of CPR before they could figure out how to work the marine radio, either because no one knew how to operate the radio, because there was something wrong with this particular marine radio, or because the operators were too intoxicated to figure it out.
Liability arose from the father's failure to supervise his son, but also from the father's failure to supervise Zac's use of the jet ski after his parents allowed the father to act in loco parentis, promising to take responsibility for Zac's safety during the vacation.