Abby Sunderland, 16, Lost at Sea While Sailing Around the World Solo - What's the Legal Implication Here?

Teen sailor Abby Sunderland, 16, isn't communicating with anyone -- but her sailboat shouldn't be completely underwater according to her brother, since an alarm for that event hasn't sounded.  Sixteen years old, Abby is determined to circumnavigate the globe alone in Wild Eyes, her sailboat.  (For details on her story, check out the details at SailWorld.com, which includes photos of the sailboat with Abby at the helm.)

Abby turned on emergency beacons before 6AM this morning

However, no one has heard from Abby since early this morning, when Abby was somewhere in the Indian Ocean, closest land being Reunion Island in Madagascar.  She turned on a couple of beacons around dawn. 

Rescue operations are underway.  Boats are headed toward the spot that everyone thinks Abby will be, but they'll need around 40 hours to get there, and seaplanes are also (hopefully) in route. 

Family Updating Her Blog With Rescue News

It's a sailboat that the family reports on Abby's Blog today was built with 5 air-tight bulkheads (which will keep the boat afloat even if there has been major damage). Wild Eyes, moreover, was built to right itself if it were tipped over.

And it may well have tipped over, since Abby already reported that the sails have dunked into the ocean waters twice during rough weather that included 25 - 30 foot high waves. 

The family is updating folk with posts on Abby's Blog - where Abby was posting regularly until this event.  They are asking for prayers and support. 

And I will pray for Abby and her family -- but as a lawyer, especially one that represented children for several years, I gotta wonder. 

Are the parents legally responsible here in the event that Abby has been lost at sea? 

One does have to ask: what the heck is a 16 year old teenage girl doing out there, doing this? No matter her skill level, under the law she is a child. 

Legally, these parents are responsible for whatever happens to their minor child (at least they would be in Texas).  If something happens to Abby, is there criminal liability?

Danger is Danger

Having represented children in the local's Children's Court in abuse and neglect cases - as their attorney ad litem, where Child Protective Services had become involved in the child's situation - my perception of this event may be different than some others.

Most of the kids that came thru Children's Court were from socioeconomic lifestyles that are at the opposite end of the continuum from the way of life that Abby Sutherland's sailing family enjoys. 

However, danger is danger.  Putting your child in a life-threatening, dangerous spot is not acceptable: if you do it intentionally, it's abuse; if you do it unintentionally, it's neglect. 

The opinion of the Backseat Lawyer is this:  no 16 year old teenager should be alone on a sailboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean no matter how cool they think it is, or no matter how lucrative that adventure might be. 
For updates:  Abby's Blog

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your another idiotic lawyer. She knows more about sailing than you do about legal issues. She is not out of her element at all, she has sailed for years already. She has always been, (and is now), in less danger than if she were walking accross the street, or riding a bike.

Some things society says are safe are totally stupid (riding bikes near cars, walking accross streets, etc). And this is one case that folks like you will predend involves unimaginable risks just so you can make a dime.