One of the great features of Florida is the abundance of waterways—oceans, lakes, gulfs, bays, rivers, and more. The Sunshine State is a boater’s paradise. However, statistics show that boating is also more dangerous here than in other states, by far.
The relative lack of safety in Florida boating can be seen in comparison with the state suffering the second-highest number of boating accidents, California. In the same year, California registered only about half the number of boating accidents that Florida did, at 324, despite having nearly twice Florida’s population.
If you or a loved one is injured or killed in a St. Petersburg boating accident, call the dedicated lawyers at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman. Our local offices provide comprehensive services for boating accidents, including an initial consultation to discuss your accident, investigation of the accident if needed, and thorough representation to pursue the justice you deserve.
Common Causes of Boating Accidents
Florida boating accidents take place in a wide number of locations, including marinas, open water, recreational areas, and fishing spots. One of the reasons for the high number of boating accidents is the large total area in Florida covered by water or adjacent to water.
The other reason, unfortunately, is the relative lack of regulation for certain age groups. Many states require boat operators to pass operational and safety tests, much like how car owners face requirements to take driving tests. Florida’s requirements, however, are less steep than they are for cars.
Florida mandates that everyone born on or subsequent to January 1, 1988, who operates a boating vessel powered by 10 horsepower or more must pass an approved boater safety course and carry a photo ID from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. However, those born before that date are not bound by these requirements. In other words, anyone currently over 32 years of age can operate a boat without a safety course. That is a lot of boaters.
The regulations also do not apply to crafts with horsepower below 10 hp. There is also no age restriction on who can operate a boat.
As a result, some boating accidents may occur because of operator inexperience or misjudgment. Boating accidents can occur because the boat went too fast for conditions, because the boat’s operator did not see obstacles (everything from a pier to a water-skier), or because the operator failed to observe simple safety protocols, such as following the right-of-way rules.
Boat accidents can also occur because the operator or someone on the boat has had too much alcohol (or another substance) or because of distraction by music, cellphones, conversation, or other distractions.
Boat accidents can also occur because of manufacturing issues with the boat itself, as well as inadequate maintenance or repair of the boat or equipment associated with the boat.
All of these can cause specific accidents to occur, such as:
- Collisions with other vessels
- Collisions with fixed objects
- Falling overboard
- Running aground
- Fuel fires or explosions
- Falling on the boat
- Striking underwater objects
- Damage from wakes
Common Injuries From Boating Accidents
Injuries from the above accidents run the gamut from the extremely serious (such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI)) to the more minor (such as bruising in a collision).
Boating accident injuries include:
- Soft tissue injuries
- Fractured bones
- Spinal cord injuries
- Loss of function due to oxygen deprivation
- Nerve damage
- Burns, scarring, and disfigurement
- Amputation of body parts or loss of body parts
There were 675 boating accidents in Florida during a recent year, according to the United States Coast Guard, and roughly 55 of them resulted in a fatality.
Responsibility for Boating Accidents
If you or a loved one suffers injuries in a St. Petersburg boating accident, determining responsibility for the accident is a highly important step. Victims of accidents caused by other parties may seek compensation from the responsible party, as long as their injuries stem only from the accident and not some other cause.
The issue of responsibility centers around the legal concept of negligence. Negligence is a violation of the ordinary standard of care that a prudent person is expected to follow. For example, all boaters should drive safely and follow all applicable laws and posted signage. That is a duty of care. If a boater does not drive safely or follow the law, or ignores posted signs, he or she may have violated the duty of care, and a court could declare the boater negligent.
If the negligence causes an accident, and that accident specifically causes injuries, the negligent party would be liable for your injuries. Liability is financial responsibility.
Both people and organizations can potentially bear responsibility. A boat’s driver may bear responsibility for an accident, for example. The same may be true for a boat manufacturer, if a design or production defect caused the accident.
Boating accidents may require investigation to determine all the potential causes. Once they are determined, injured parties should consult an attorney, like those at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman, for advice.
Ascertaining Jurisdiction in a Boating Accident
In addition to identifying the responsible party, boat accident victims and their lawyers need to ascertain the appropriate jurisdiction. Why? Because accidents that happen on public waterways fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal admiralty and are bound by admiralty and maritime law. The attorneys at our law firm understand admiralty and maritime law.
If you are in a boating accident on public waterways, your case may be brought in Florida’s Federal court (as opposed to the state court where most injury accident cases are brought). The judicial procedures are quite distinct in each type of court.
If your injury stems from a cruise ship or boat on public waterways, you should speak to an attorney with experience in that type of law, and who is qualified to bring cases in those courts.
Obtaining Compensation for Your Injuries
Generally, victims of boating accidents can seek compensation in the following categories.
- Medical expenses—both present and future—for emergency services, hospitalization, surgery, doctor’s visits, prescription medication, diagnostic tests, assistive devices, and more.
- Income lost from work, if the accident, treatment, or recuperation requires taking time from work.
- Lifetime value of earnings, if your injuries prevent you from working at a former occupation.
- Property damage for personal property damaged or lost in the accident.
- Pain and suffering for emotional, mental, and physical effects.
You and your personal injury lawyer could discuss pursuing damage claims in the above categories in the applicable court system, or via the negligent party’s insurance. However, car accidents and boat accidents are different in the fact that boat liability insurance is not required. If an individual boat operator caused the accident, they may not possess insurance.
Talk to an attorney about this. They can help you strategize a plan to pursue compensation. Call Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman today for more information.
What Should I Do After a Boat Accident?
Victims of a boat accident should make sure they do two things after an accident: first and foremost, ensure their safety, and second, contact authorities.
If you are visibly injured, call 911 or the relevant authorities in the waterway. If the boat is damaged in a way that could put you in further danger, take appropriate safety steps for yourself and report the condition of the boat.
Under Florida law, boat operators must report accidents that have caused injury, death, or $2,000 or more in property damage, to the relevant authorities. Some authorities are generally faster in responding: the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the sheriff of the county that the victim is in at the time of the accident, or the police chief of the municipality the victim is in at the time of the accident.
If you can, stay at the scene until authorities have arrived. The sole exception to this is if emergency responders feel you need to be transported to an emergency department right away. It is against Florida law for boat operators to leave the scene of an accident before giving all possible aid and reporting it.
Authorities will develop an accident report and other documentation. You need a copy of the report and any other relevant information about how and why the accident happened.
If you are able, obtain the contact information of all operators involved in the accident, such as names, e-mail addresses, and insurance (if available). If you are not severely injured and have access to a smartphone or other camera, take pictures of the boats and any other objects involved. The goal here is to gather evidence of how the accident occurred. Take pictures of injured parties as well.
Even if emergency responders do not indicate that you need to go to the emergency department, your health needs do not end there. Anyone involved in an accident should visit their physician as soon as possible. Tell them you were involved in an accident. They can take steps to diagnose you properly.
If they have medical recommendations, such as physical therapy, procedures, or medication, follow their advice. If you do not do this, the defendants (the responsible parties) may try to argue that your lack of compliance is the reason for your injuries.
Keep all records of your medical visits and treatment, including advice, reports, and bills.
The nature and extent of an injured person’s injuries can serve as evidence of how an accident happened.
Remember that boats and other objects can be replaced, but people cannot. All your steps after the accident should aim toward the safety of boat operators and passengers. Focus on the boat only insofar as it affects the people aboard. You can turn your attention to the boat after all of the people are safe.
What if a Crime Is Involved?
Sometimes, boat accidents involve crimes. It is against the law, for example, to operate a boat under the influence of excessive alcohol (or other substances).
Injured people do not have to pursue justice for crimes. Law enforcement and other authorities bring criminal charges against those suspected of a crime—whether they are misdemeanors or felonies. They are brought to criminal court, which is a different system than civil court for personal injury or admiralty/maritime Federal courts.
If a Death Stems From a Boating Accident
Tragically, boating accidents sometimes end in death. While compensation from the responsible party may be the last thing on your mind if a loved one died, the law does recognize that family members may suffer both emotional and financial harm from a boat accident death.
Under Florida law, certain parties can bring a type of lawsuit for wrongful death. This pursues compensation for the injuries or harm to the deceased, that they could have brought a suit for if they were alive.
Wrongful death claims are restricted to specific family members of the deceased.
In Florida, you must be:
- The spouse, children, or parents of the deceased.
- Any blood relative or adoptive sibling partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services.
Wrongful death compensation exists in the following categories.
- Medical or funeral expenses paid for by a surviving family member.
- Value of support and services the deceased person provided to the surviving family member.
- Loss of the companionship, protection, and guidance offered by the deceased.
- Mental and emotional pain and suffering, if the deceased is a child.
The deceased person’s estate can also seek compensation in the following categories.
- Medical and funeral expenses that the estate paid.
- Lost wages, benefits, and other earnings the deceased person could reasonably have been expected to make had they lived.
- Lost accumulation of the estate or the value of earnings the estate could reasonably have been expected to collect if the deceased had lived.
Contact a Boating Accident Attorney in St. Petersburg
If you are a victim of a boating accident, you might feel pain or experience trauma. But one of the best things you can do in this period is to contact a boating accident attorney in the area.
At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman, we offer a free initial consultation to discuss your accident. We provide help with the investigation, gathering evidence, and seeking damages. We have experience in both personal injury and maritime/admiralty law. We will fight to do justice on your behalf. Contact us today.
With offices across both Florida coasts, you can easily reach Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, and Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH), or you can write to us using our online contact page.
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