Florida is the busiest state for recreational boating in the nation, and it makes up a large percentage of Florida’s tourist industry. Unfortunately, the large amount of watercraft on Florida’s waterways means the state also has the most boating accidents in the country. Were you or a loved one injured in a Florida boat crash? If so, specific laws apply to boat accidents—and it is essential you contact an experienced accident attorney to discuss your case as soon as possible.
If you are still wondering whether you need an attorney, read out article on when an injury victim should seek outside help.
Florida Maritime Laws and Regulations
Because boating is such a large part of Florida’s recreational and tourist industry, more regulations mean more frustration for consumers. Accordingly, there is no age requirement for boating in Florida, and operators older than 30 are not required to have boating licenses or even to undergo boating safety courses. This means that many Florida boaters are not licensed or trained in boating safety, which can make a boating crash even more severe.
What many Florida residents—and even some attorneys—do not know is that any accident that occurs on a public waterway falls under federal admiralty jurisdiction. This means that the case can, and sometimes must, be brought in Florida’s federal courts, which have different judicial procedures. A separate set of laws applies to injuries sustained as the result of boat or cruise accidents, and your Florida personal injury and maritime attorney must know which standards to use when petitioning the court for compensation. For example, you may need to make a claim using the admiralty standards for negligence, not car accident standards. Your attorney must also be qualified to practice in federal court and actually have experience doing so. Not every lawyer has these particular experiences.
Common Florida Boat Accidents
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a collision with another vessel is the leading type of boating accident in Florida, but injuries to those being towed for watersport activities are also high. When it comes to fatalities, the majority of these were overboard drowning accidents in which alcohol or drugs were involved. The primary types of Florida boating accidents include, in order of volume:
- Collisions with other vessels
- Collisions with fixed objects
- Falls overboard
- Fuel fires or explosions
- Falls on the boat
- Striking underwater objects
- Wake damage
Florida has a plethora of different waterways—again, some of the most diverse in the nation. The rules and speeds for boating on these waterways differ, but most accidents occur on the following, from most to least common:
- Bays and sounds
- Ocean and the Gulf
- Rivers and creeks
- Canal and cuts
- Inlets and passes
- Lakes and ponds
- Ports and harbors
- Marshes and swamps
Therefore, the most likely Florida boat accident is a collision between two boats on Florida’s bays and sounds. In addition, the majority of accidents occur during recreational cruising or fishing, because boat operators are not paying attention. This is just one of the consequences of permitting inexperienced boat operators to cruise down Florida’s waterways.
There are also a large number of boating accidents that occur when someone operating a boat has had entirely too much to drink. Known as BUI (Boating Under the Influence), this occurs when someone has had too much to drink and can no longer operate their boat in a safe manner. Someone can be found guilty of BUI if they operate a vessel while being so intoxicated that their normal faculties are impaired by the alcohol or drugs, or if they have a blood alcohol limit of .08% or more.
Jet Skis Can Cause Serious Boating Accidents in Florida
In Florida, another recreational water sport is jet skiing. These watercraft can cause substantial damage if not operated safely. Accidents caused by someone who is operating a jet ski negligently are on the rise in Florida and throughout the nation, and so are the settlements for the victims of such reckless conduct. For example, in March of 2010, a jet ski rider was killed in Florida when the jet ski she was riding on collided with another boat. The driver of the jet ski was intoxicated. The woman was nearly decapitated in the accident and was immediately killed. The woman’s mother sued the driver of the boat and secured a settlement of $1.95 million. In another incident in August of 2013, a young girl was riding a Polaris jet ski which malfunctioned and collided with a large boat in California. This young woman sustained severe head trauma and lost a majority of her mental capacity. The settlement, in this case, was in excess of $21 million.
Who is Liable for a Boating Accident?
Those who operate a boat and do so in a negligent manner can be liable for boating accidents. If someone is operating a boat and is not adhering to the normal safety precautions, they are operating the boat differently than a reasonable person would under similar or same circumstances, and they could be found liable. Typically, if someone in your boat caused the accident, they can be held liable. Also, if someone operating another boat caused the accident, they can be held liable as well. It will all depend on the circumstances surrounding your particular incident. An operator of a boat can actually be liable for an accident without even making direct physical contact with another boat. This can happen when a boater creates a wake that causes another vessel to capsize or become damaged. If this happens, it is important to identify which vessel caused the wake and get the operators information.
Injuries After a Boating Accident
Due to the variety of boating accidents, such as fire and fuel accidents, slip and fall injuries, and drowning accidents, no one type of injury is most common other than fatalities caused by drowning. Victims of boating accidents can suffer from burns, traumatic brain injuries, lung infections due to water inhalation, broken bones, and even spinal injuries as the result of tossing. The most serious injuries, however, are often traumatic brain injuries, which can occur if a vessel capsizes or crashes and you are tossed overboard into a stable object, such as a jetty of rocks or dock. In fact, if you are able to swim, it is less likely you will suffer a serious injury if you hit just the water, which can act as a buffer. The most dangerous injuries occur after a direct impact with another boat or object.
If you were injured in a Florida boating accident, you may seek compensation for the following:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Medications and medical supplies
- Property damage
- Other foreseeable damages linked to the accident
One problem faced by victims of boat accidents, as opposed to car accidents, is that while liability insurance is recommended for boats in Florida, it is not required. If you were injured in a recreational boat accident, then, there is no guarantee that you are covered by an insurance company for your immediate medical bills and needs. Your only option may be to seek compensation from the negligent boat operator himself—and he may not have the funds needed to cover your expenses. A Florida boat accident attorney, however, can look into whether the boat owner or rental company carried insurance and might be liable for the negligent entrustment of a vessel to someone without boating experience or training.
Contact a Florida Personal Injury Attorney Today
If you or a loved one were injured in a boating accident, especially by an inexperienced boater who was distracted or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the Dolman Law Group has the Florida personal injury and maritime attorneys you need to analyze your case and get you the compensation you deserve. Our legal team knows how to litigate your claims according to federal admiralty law when necessary and we can help sort through the insurance and liability issues that are commonly seen after Florida boating accidents. Call us today at (727) 451-6900 or contact us online for a free, no-risk consultation.
*The above information was written and reviewed by either Attorney Matthew Dolman or another injury lawyer at the Dolman Law Group which has a combined 90 plus years of experience practicing Florida personal injury law. Matthew Dolman himself has been practicing personal injury law in Clearwater and St. Petersburg for the last fifteen (15) years. The information provided comes from extensive research and years of experience trying legal cases in courtrooms throughout Florida.