Boating accidents can be complicated, involving federal as well as state laws. If you or a loved one has been injured in a boating accident, consult an experienced Tampa boating accident lawyer at the Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA or Sibley Dolman to understand your rights and learn about your legal options.
Boating is one of the greatest joys of the Tampa area. Whether you are enjoying Tampa Bay, one of the many tributaries that flow into it, or the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, there are almost endless destinations available to boaters. However, boating accidents can cause serious bodily injury or even death. Florida leads the nation in the number of registered recreational boats, and according to a U.S. Coast Guard survey, Florida also leads the country in the number of boating accidents.
In Florida, 925,141 recreational vessels were registered. Of 628 reportable boating accidents, 307 injuries and 59 fatalities took place. Two of the top ten Florida counties for boating accidents are in the Tampa area—Pinellas County ranked number three and Hillsborough County ranked number five. An estimated one million non-registered vessels also navigate Florida waterways. Jet skiing is another popular sport in Florida, and unfortunately, jet ski accidents are becoming increasingly more common.
Why Tampa Boating Accidents Happen
Many factors can contribute to boating accidents. Among them are:
- The operator is distracted. Just like distracted driving causes car accidents, distracted operation of a boat is dangerous. In fact, distracted operation—or inattention—is the number one cause of boating accidents and deaths. If the person operating your boat, or the vessel that hit you was distracted, there is a much higher likelihood of an accident. Every boat also needs a person to watch for storms or potential hazards. If that person is negligent, it puts others at risk.
- The operator is inexperienced. Operators must understand the basics of boating and follow the rules of navigation. An inexperienced operator may not know how to react to sudden changes or handle emergencies.
- Drugs or alcohol use. Statistics show that alcohol or drug-use plays a role in 19 percent of boating fatalities, on average. If the judgment of the boat operator or the lookout person is impaired by alcohol or drugs, that person may make bad decisions. Alcohol lowers reaction times and the ability to respond appropriately to potentially dangerous situations.
- Speeding. A boat operator who is speeding cannot react to unexpected conditions, such as avoiding other boats, rocks, or sudden wakes. If an operator tries to turn a speeding boat, the vessel may capsize, endangering everyone on board.
- Lack of maintenance or proper equipment. Boat owners are responsible for keeping their boats safe. This means regular maintenance so that the boat does not fail or stall when out on the open water. Failure to do so creates a significant risk of injury to everyone on board. Boat owners must provide water flotation devices as required by law. If the manufacturer improperly designed or manufactured boat parts or equipment, the manufacturer might be liable for injuries.
- Adverse weather conditions. Boating during stormy weather conditions is dangerous, and weather conditions on the water can change suddenly. Even experienced operators should avoid boating during stormy weather, high winds, unpredictable waves, or poor visibility conditions.
Types of Boating Accidents
There are several common types of boating accidents, which may lead to injuries or fatalities. Consider the following:
- Collision with another boat. Nearly 30 percent of the 2018 accidents involved collisions between vessels. If there is a collision between two similar vehicles, such as motorboats, both operators may share liability. However, in a collision between a sailboat and a motorboat, the motorboat is more likely to be at fault than the sailboat. According to proper boating protocol, the motorboat should keep out of the way of the sailboat.
- Hitting the wake of another boat. Boating laws and regulations require the operator of a boat to maintain a proper watch for any potential hazards. However, several factors may affect liability in a wake accident. These include the size of the wake, the speed of the boat, visibility of the boat, other boat traffic in the area, whether the boats were in a no-wake zone, whether the operator warned passengers of an upcoming wake, and what type of boat was involved. A wave accident is similar to a wake accident except that there is no other boat to hold liable. When a boat hits a big wave, the jolt to the boat can knock the passengers down or throw them out of their seats or overboard. Legal liability for a wake accident is not always clear cut.
- Collision with a submerged object, a rock, or the land. Even in the best visibility, a boat can hit a submerged object or rock. If the visibility or weather is bad, boats can run aground or crash into a wharf or the coastline. If the operator has been proceeding cautiously and has nautical charts for the area, he or she may not be considered negligent. But if the operator hits a jetty or the land while traveling too fast, without navigational aids, or in heavy fog, he or she may be found negligent.
- Failure to have proper safety equipment on board. Federal and state regulations require boats to carry various kinds of safety equipment on board. Safety equipment includes life jackets for each passenger, throwable life rings, fire extinguishers, sound signaling devices, navigational lights, flares, loud whistles, and fire extinguishers. Proper safety equipment can make all the difference in the event of an accident.
Types of Boating Injuries
Florida has an abundance of waterways, including the ocean, the gulf, bays, sounds, rivers, creeks, canals, inlets, lakes, and marshes, each with their own pleasures and risks. The leading cause of death in boating accidents is drowning. Approximately 88 percent of those who drowned in boating-related incidents were not wearing life jackets. Injuries happen in all kinds of ways in boating accidents. Victims may slip and fall either on the boat or overboard. They may be run over by boats or struck by propellers. Lacerations, broken bones, back injuries, and spinal cord injuries are also common.
Consider the following:
- Propeller accidents can cause severe cuts, internal injuries, and even amputations.
- Run-over accidents can happen to those who fall overboard or to people swimming in the area. Run-over accidents may result in traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and many other injuries similar to those of car accident victims.
- Slip-and-fall accidents are common on boats because of slippery floors and tripping hazards. Depending on the circumstances of the fall, victims may suffer anything from minor injuries to broken bones or traumatic head injuries.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning may happen when gasoline-powered engines on boats, including onboard generators, produce carbon monoxide. Breathing carbon monoxide, even for a short time, can result in headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and brain damage. High levels of carbon monoxide inhalation can cause death, and carbon monoxide poisoning can also cause individuals to pass out and fall into the water and drown.
What to Do If You Are in a Boating Accident
Florida Statute 327.30 states the requirements for any boater involved in an accident with another party or vessel, whether manned or unmanned. If you or someone else suffers injuries or property damages in a Florida boat accident, the law requires the other party to remain on the scene and provide “such assistance as is practicable and necessary.” However, if staying in place would endanger the safety of anyone on board, then remain as close to the scene as safely possible.
Florida law also covers reporting requirements. Anyone operating a vessel must report a serious boat or watercraft accident as soon as possible, depending on your circumstances and the location of the accident. A serious boating accident involves:
- The death of an involved party; or
- The disappearance of someone involved; or
- An injury that requires medical attention; or
- Damage to a boat, another vessel, or other property likely to cost $2,000 or more.
The authorities who can respond to this type of accident include:
- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; or
- The local sheriff’s department; or
- The local police department.
Failing to report a boating accident and leaving the scene of such an accident are serious charges. You should always exchange information with the owner of the other vessel or owner of the damaged property. Ask for and provide the following:
- All contact information, including name, address, and phone number
- The identifying number of all vessels involved
If you hit an unattended boat or other property, you must take “all reasonable steps” to find the owner to give them the necessary information. Failure to do so may result in accusations that you left the scene of an accident and lead to criminal charges.
Pursuing Compensation Following a Florida Boating Accident
State, federal, and local laws are established and enforced to safeguard recreational boat users.
If you have been injured in a boating accident, you must prove that your injury resulted in someone’s negligence if you want to secure compensation. The fact that you were injured does not necessarily mean that someone else acted negligently. Negligence is a “failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” Negligent behavior usually consists of actions, but it may also consist of omissions if there is a duty to act with reasonable care. Therefore, you must prove that someone failed to act with reasonable care and that the negligent act caused your injury.
Who May Be Liable?
Just like someone driving a motor vehicle, boat operators have a legal duty of care to operate the boat safely at all times while looking out for the well-being of passengers. However, others may have a legal responsibility as well, such as:
- Another boater – Operator error causes most boating accidents. Another boater’s negligence may cause the accident, especially if the boater is operating the vessel recklessly, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, at excessive speeds, while engaging in other negligent behavior, or without proper experience.
- Boat rental company – Boating can be an expensive pastime. Therefore, rather than buying a boat, many people choose to rent one. Rental companies offer many types of boats, including motorized and non-motorized; they also rent personal watercraft, jet skis, safety equipment, water sports gear, and more. Such companies have a legal obligation to ensure that watercraft they rent to consumers are safe for use. Companies must properly maintain boats or repair or replace hazards they know, or should know, about.
- Manufacturers – Under product liability laws, manufacturers of boats and boating equipment can be held liable for defectively designed, manufactured, or marketed products. If a boat malfunctions and causes an accident, or in the case of defective boating or water sports products, the victim may be entitled to compensation under product liability law.
- Commercial businesses – There are a variety of commercial businesses that provide boating-related services, such as fishing expeditions, boat tours, water sports and activities, and more. These businesses must take reasonable steps to keep their customers safe. For example, such businesses should employ trained and qualified workers and properly maintain boats and equipment.
Damages Available in Personal Injury Lawsuits
Damages as the result of a boating accident are similar to those awarded in a car accident. If a boater’s negligence caused your injuries, you may be entitled to damages. Your damages may include:
- Medical bills
- Loss of income
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage
When a boating accident causes permanent or catastrophic injuries, the injury victim may also be able to claim damages for:
- Loss of earning capacity
- Long-term medical care
- Compensation for disfigurement
Tampa Boating Accident FAQ
The Tampa Bay area is one of the best boating destinations in the country, with beach-front parks, islands, and sandbars as some of the most popular boating destinations. Beyond Tamp, boating is popular all across Florida. In fact, according to a report from the Florida Fishing and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Law Enforcement Unit, Florida leads the nation in the number of boats, with more than 961,000 vessels registered.
Unfortunately, with a high number of boats comes boating accidents. Florida sees more than 700 boating accidents a year, resulting in dozens of deaths and even more injuries.
If you were injured in a boating accident that was caused by someone else’s reckless or careless actions, you undoubtedly have a lot of questions about the legal process and how to recover compensation for the expenses you have incurred as a result of your injury. Read on for the answers to the questions we are most frequently asked by our clients about Tampa boating accidents.
What should I do if I am involved in a boating accident in the Tampa area?
Boating accidents are all too common in Tampa.
Indeed, a 2009 boating accident in the Bay that killed well-known college and NFL football players is going to be the subject of a movie. The movie is based on the book, Not Without Hope, which was written by the lone survivor of that accident. The accident took place in February 2009, when former University of South Florida football players Nick Schuyler and William Bleakley, along with Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper and former Buccaneer Corey Smith, left the Clearwater Marina for an offshore fishing run. The group was 70 miles from land when the boat capsized. Two days later, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued Schuyler from the water.
Hopefully, you’re never in a Tampa boating accident, particularly one as dramatic and tragic as the one discussed above.
However, if you are in a boating accident, you should:
- Check on your passengers. Make sure that no one has fallen overboard and assess any injuries that you or your passengers have incurred. Additionally, make sure everyone aboard the vessel is wearing a life jacket.
- If you can, drop your anchor, so you can attend to the needs of the passengers on the boat without worrying about drifting.
- Call for help, either using your cell phone to dial 911—if you have the reception necessary to make a call—or by placing a distress call on channel 16 on your VHF radio. Each of these methods should place you in contact with the nearest emergency dispatch center, which can then alert the Coast Guard or other emergency responders.
- Gather information. If your accident involves another boat, be sure to get the contact information for the operator of that boat as well as the operator’s insurance information, including the insurance provider and policy number.
- Notify your insurance company. Most insurers require that their insured parties report all accidents, even if they are not planning to file a claim. Failing to do this could result in the cancellation of your insurance policy.
Are boaters in Tampa required to wear personal floatation devices?
While Florida does not require boaters over the age of 6 to wear personal flotation devices, boats must have a personal flotation device on board and easily accessible for each passenger riding in the boat. The device must be in good working condition and be available in a size that will fit the passenger. Children under the age of six must wear a personal flotation device at all times when aboard the boat.
How is the process of recovering damages in a Tampa boating accident different from other types of accidents?
Individuals who have been injured in a boating accident as the result of someone else’s careless or reckless actions may qualify to recover damages through a Tampa boating accident lawsuit, just as they would after sustaining injuries in any other type of accident caused by someone else’s negligence. The foundation of a successful outcome in such a case depends on the injured party’s ability to prove the at-fault party’s liability, and to establish the expenses and life impacts that you have suffered.
What distinguishes boating accident cases from other types of accidents is not how to recover damages, but rather the liable party. Most car accidents are caused by the negligent actions of other motorists. However, while some boating accidents do involve more than one vessel, it is more common for the accident to be a result of poor maintenance, defective parts, or negligent behavior on the part of the boat’s operator.
One of the important services that your attorney will provide for you is a determination of all liable parties, based on the facts of your case and all sources of insurance that are accessible for compensation.
What damages can I recover after a Tampa boating accident?
The damages you are eligible to recover through a Tampa boating accident include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Property damage that you sustained as a result of the accident
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of the enjoyment of life
How do I calculate my non-economic damages after a Tampa boating accident?
Any type of accident involving injury is likely to cause distress, discomfort, and other serious impacts to the injured individual’s daily life. If you were in a boating accident, the compensation that you can recover due to these life impacts is known as non-economic damages.
Because non-economic damages compensate for life impacts, rather than out-of-pocket expenses for which there is a bill, a pay stub, or other forms of proof, the insurance company will lowball you on noneconomic damages. Make sure to hire a Tampa boating accident lawyer who will fight to get you more.
More severe injuries will generally result in a larger noneconomic damages award. This number is added to the total of your economic damages to arrive at your case’s value.
My husband died in a Tampa boating accident. Is there a process for recovering damages in his case?
Yes. You would seek to recover damages through a wrongful death lawsuit. Like a personal injury claim, a wrongful death lawsuit is a legal claim filed in civil court in which you must prove liability and damages. In Florida, this type of claim is filed by a personal representative of the estate to pursue damages on behalf of the deceased’s family members.
The family members who are eligible to benefit from a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- The deceased’s spouse, children, or parents
- Any other blood relative who is partly or wholly dependent on the deceased’s support and services
The damages that are recoverable in a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- The value of support and services provided to each surviving family member
- The loss of companionship, guidance, and protection previously provided by the deceased
- The mental and emotional pain that a parent suffered due to the loss of a child
- The medical and funeral expenses that a surviving family member had to pay directly
A decedent’s estate may also claim certain damages, including:
- Lost wages, benefits, and other earnings that the decedent could have reasonably expected to earn throughout his or her career had he or she survived the accident
- Loss of prospective net accumulations by the estate
- Medical or funeral expenses that the estate paid directly
The at-fault party’s insurance company has offered me a settlement after my Tampa boating accident. Should I accept it?
You should never accept a third-party insurance settlement without first speaking with our experienced Tampa boating attorneys. The reason for this is that insurance companies are in business to make money. One of the ways they do this is by avoiding large payouts to injured individuals. Insurance companies will often offer a low, quick settlement after an accident, in the hopes that the injured person—who is often in pain and under extreme stress as a result of the accident—will jump at the quick resolution.
However, it is impossible to tell early on just how much a case is worth and how much the injured person is going to need to cover his or her expenses. If you accept an early settlement offer before an attorney has had an opportunity to properly value your case based on the expenses you have incurred, the estimated future expenses, and the impacts on your life, you can’t return later for more money if you discover that the settlement was not enough.
How long do I have to file a lawsuit after sustaining an injury in a Tampa boating accident?
The time limit for filing a Tampa boating accident lawsuit in Florida is generally four years after the date of the accident. The statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits in Florida is two years after the date of the death. The law provides exceptions to these time limits, with shorter time limits allowed for claims against government agencies and longer time limits when the injured person is a minor at the time of the accident or when the defendant in the case is no longer in the state and difficult to locate.
Your attorney will advise you if the statute of limitations can toll in your case.
What steps can I take to avoid injury in a Tampa boating accident?
While some boating accidents are bound to happen, there are some preventative measures that you can take to avoid injury.
These measures include:
- Never operate a boat while intoxicated or board a boat piloted by an intoxicated person. Alcohol impairment is a leading cause of boating accidents, due to the substance’s impact on the brain’s ability to function and the deficits that alcohol causes to the skills needed for safe boat operation.
- Make sure there are enough personal floatation devices for everyone aboard. To be even safer, make sure you are wearing your personal floatation device every time you board a boat. While it may be cumbersome to wear, having it on will prevent you from spending valuable seconds during an emergency putting it on, or not having it at all. Other safety equipment that should be on the boat at all times includes boat lights and a fire extinguisher.
- Make sure you properly maintain the boat, as boat or equipment failure is another major factor in boating accidents, injuries, and deaths.
- Monitor the weather conditions carefully. A storm that seems mild on land can prove deadly in the water. You should also check the water conditions to avoid boating in congested waterways where there is a higher likelihood of a collision with another boat.
- Don’t overload the boat, and distribute the weight of the passengers and gear evenly to avoid making the boat difficult to maneuver or even causing it to capsize.
- Maintain a safe speed, keeping in mind the light and water conditions that could make it necessary to slow down.
Do I need an attorney to pursue the recovery of damages resulting from my Tampa boat accident?
Yes, you need the guidance and representation of an experienced boat accident attorney when pursuing damages related to your Tampa boat accident. Tampa boating accident lawyers spend many years learning about the law so that they can provide the services that their clients need.
Attorneys who have represented individuals who were injured in boating accidents understand the unique issues involved, including maritime laws, state boating regulations, strategies for determining liability in a boat accident, and negotiations with insurance companies who represent chartered boating companies, the manufacturers and distributors of boat parts, and other boat owners.
What Can Our Tampa Boating Accident Attorneys Do for You?
Each boating accident is unique, but all carry the risks of injury and death, particularly from drowning. Such accidents involve complex issues of liability and insurance. If you or a loved one were injured in a boating accident, you need an experienced Tampa personal injury lawyer to review your case and determine your eligibility to file a claim.
For a free, no-risk consultation, call Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA or Sibley Dolman at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH), or contact us online.