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Judge: Maritime law applies for woman thrown off Hellgate jetboat

A federal judge’s ruling that the Rogue River is navigable from Grants Pass to the Pacific Ocean will impact a lawsuit filed by a woman claiming she was seriously injured during an outing aboard Hellgate Jetboat Excursions.

Dione Young, who filed a $4.7 million civil lawsuit earlier this year against Grants Pass Jetboats, which does business as Hellgate Jetboat Excursions, had sought to argue that she was not on navigable waters at the time she was thrown from one jetboat during a July 20, 2018, excursion and struck by another jetboat, according to filings in U.S. District Court in Medford.

Young alleges that a trio of jetboats were “engaging in reckless horseplay” and making “sharp 360-degree turns” at about river mile 92, upstream from Rainie Falls. She was ejected when the boat spun, according to filings in U.S. District Court over the maritime law dispute and a civil lawsuit she filed in Josephine County Circuit Court earlier this summer.

The turbulence of the second boat drew her underwater, she says, but she sustained serious injuries after the third boat struck her, resulting in traumatic brain injury with concussion, post-concussion syndrome, deep lacerations on her scalp, plus injuries to her ear, neck, left shoulder, back and one of her knees.

Grants Pass Jetboats has argued that maritime law applies to the incident, and as such their liability is limited to $120,500 — the value of the three-engine 1996 custom-built jetboat that Young had been riding during the excursion.

Young made multiple arguments seeking to exempt maritime or admiralty law leading up to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane, filings show. She argued that the Class IV Blossom Bar Rapids at river mile 45.5 and Rainie Falls’ typical 12-foot drop during summer river levels at river mile 66.5 rendered the Rogue nonnavigable — severing the waterway’s commercial ties to the ocean and therefore subjecting the case to state law. She separately sought to argue that the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act rendered portions of the Rogue River nonnavigable, and was therefore exempt because of restrictions to the number of vessels during some seasons and restrictions to commercial activity in the area.

On Oct. 5, McShane determined that admiralty law, also known as maritime law, applies to Young’s case. McShane drew from information from the U.S. Coast Guard, declarations from boaters in the area and legal precedent dating from the 1870s to 2009.

“The jetboat was clearly a vessel and ... it was carrying passengers in navigable waters,” McShane ruled. “The Court therefore concludes that the incident was sufficiently related to traditional maritime activity to satisfy the requirements of admiralty jurisdiction.”

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.