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The Deadly Bungee Jump: Criminal Charges Due to Language Barriers
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The Deadly Bungee Jump: Criminal Charges Due to La...

By Marianne Jennings

6/29/2017

 

 

She was a 16-year-old from the Netherlands on holiday in Spain.  It was the last jump of the night at the 130-foot-high bridge in Cantabria near the northern coast of Spain.  At 8:30 PM, Vero Mol was in the jumping harness and the instructor, not really proficient in English, gave her an order, “No jump.”  Ms. Mol misunderstood his pronunciation and thought he was saying “Now jump.”  The harness had not yet been hooked to the bridge, and Ms. Mol fell jumped untethered and fell to her death. Dan Bilefsky and Raphael Minder, “Deadly Bungee Jump in Spain Could Lead to Criminal Charges,” New Y...

  

In tragedies such as these, we look for lessons learned and we look to the law.  An appeals court in Spain has just ruled that the instructor for the Aqua21 Aventura, the company that organizes the jumps, could face criminal charges for his role in the teen’s death. The company had appealed a decision that permitted the charges to go forward on the grounds that the teen jumped prematurely and that her death was an accident.  The court held that the instructor’s English was not sufficient and that he should have said, “Don’t jump!”  His use of “No jump!” created confusion. The court noted that the ability to communicate with foreigners in “something as precarious as jumping into the void from an elevated point” was critical.  

 

The court also noted numerous regulatory violations by Aqua21 Aventura: 

  • The company did not determine whether Ms. Mol was underage
  • There was no permission form from the parents of the 16-year-old
  • The company had not been issued a permit for jumps in that area

Flowtrack, a company based in Belgium that had organized the trip for the teens and contracted with Aqua21 said that the Spanish company did not comply with regulations, as required under its contract.  Flowtrack vicarious liability would be an interesting question, whether they knew or should have been aware of the nature of Aqua21’s operations. 

 

The issue of different languages in the workplace has arisen in the United States with English-only policies permitted in situations that demand careful communication (operating rooms, emergency medical treatment, certain types of equipment (nuclear power operators), military operations, etc.).  Bungee jumping should be added to that list.

 

DISCUSSION STARTERS 

 

Who is an agent of whom in this situation?

 

Why is compliance or non-compliance with regulations important in the case?