Justin Shapiro and Tom Scolaro, with Leesfield Scolaro
ALM/J. Albert Diaz

A large Key West water sports company agreed to pay $2.88 million to settle a wrongful death case over its alleged failure to instruct a French tourist in Jet Ski safety.

A 33-year-old New Jersey woman, Jiyoon Kim, was killed last year when another tourist collided with her during a Jet Ski excursion through Fury Water Adventures.

Her husband’s attorneys argued the company should be held liable for the September 2016 crash. Fury only provided legally required Jet Ski safety instructions in English, and the man responsible for the crash only understood French, they said.

“Instructions were given in English in a rushed fashion on the water,” said Miami attorney Justin Shapiro of Leesfield Scolaro, who filed the case with colleague Tom Scolaro.  “It was loud. There was confusion and chaos. In fact, the evidence in the case was that one of the individuals who was speaking in French only raised his hand and said, ‘I don’t understand,’ and the instructor just kind of pushed them through.”

Instructors also ignored evidence that Julien Trayno, the man who crashed his Jet Ski into Kim’s, didn’t know what he was doing, the plaintiffs claimed. Scolaro said Trayno had never been on a Jet Ski before and started off heading in the wrong direction, but instructors gave him a warning and let him keep going.

“The inevitable happened,” Scolaro said. “You had some guy who’s demonstrably reckless, who has no clue about safety instructions. … He’s driving around like a bat out of hell.”

The crash was caught on video by other French tourists using a GoPro camera to document the excursion. As Trayno speeds toward Kim’s Jet Ski from behind, one woman can be heard yelling “Arrête!”, French for stop, before Trayno lands on top of Kim. Those filming then begin screaming for the two instructors out on the water with the group of 10 visitors.

Trayno was initially a defendant in the civil case filed in Monroe Circuit Court, but he cooperated with Leesfield Scolaro and gave a full statement. He admitted he operated the Jet Ski negligently and established he spoke no English.

He also said he received no training or instruction from Fury. Instead, the group was asked to initial documents they couldn’t read, Shapiro said.

Florida law doesn’t outline specific methods of translating for foreign Jet Ski renters, but it does require rental companies to make sure they provide proper safety training before handing over the keys, Shapiro said.

“To ensure that someone is properly trained, of course they have to understand what you’re saying,” he said.

At first, Fury tried to limit its liability by using a federal maritime law that caps damages for an incident in the owner’s absence at the value of the vessel — or less than $10,000 for a Jet Ski.

Shapiro said he and Scolaro got creative to win on that issue. They showed one of the tour guides on the excursion was named on the insurance policy, arguing he would be liable under that policy along with the owner.

Fury also argued any failure to train Trayno did not cause the collision because he was so reckless that he wasn’t watching where he was going. Fury’s attorney, Brian Scarry of Horr, Novak & Skipp in Miami, declined to comment on the settlement or underlying litigation.

The company ultimately agreed to pay out insurance policies totaling $2.88 million in the Sept. 19 settlement. Trial was set for December.

Scolaro said the crash was heart-rending. The Kims, who immigrated from South Korea, owned and operated two nail salons and hadn’t taken a vacation in seven years. They went to Key West after scrapping a planned trip to Miami because they were worried about last year’s Zika outbreak.

“It was supposed to mark the beginning of their family life because they were looking to get pregnant as soon as they returned from Florida,” Scolaro said.

Case: Byungwook Kim v. Fury Management et al Case No.: 2016-CA-851-K Description: Wrongful death Filing date: Oct. 10, 2016 Settlement date: Sept. 19, 2017 Judge: Monroe Circuit Judge Timothy Koenig Plaintiffs attorneys: Tom Scolaro and Justin Shapiro, Leesfield Scolaro, Miami Defense attorney: Brian Scarry, Horr, Novak & Skipp, Miami Settlement amount: $2.88 million