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Proving Boating Accident Liability in Florida

Fall may be in full swing, but Florida boaters know it’s the perfect time of year to be out on the water. Unfortunately, those waters can be perilous when reasonable care is tossed to the wind.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reports there were 931,000 registered vessels in the Sunshine State as of last year, and a total of 714 reportable boating accidents. Reportable boating accidents are those that result in more than $10,000 in property damage or personal injury or death. Of those 714 boat accidents, 421 resulted in injuries and 67 deaths. Personal watercraft (i.e., Jet Skis, SeaDoos, etc.) accounted for 13 percent of all registered vessels, but 26 percent of all reportable boating accidents. In terms of fatal crashes, there were 11 total, with nearly half of them involving a rented vessel. Palm Beach County ranked No. 3 in terms of the most reported boating accidents in Florida – 62 total reported with 3 of them fatal and 19 resulting in injuries. More than $1 million in property damage was reported.

Proving liability and obtaining compensation for a boating accident isn’t always a simple matter, but it’s often worth pursuing given the severity of injuries typically involved. The primary cause of Florida boating accidents, as assessed by the reviewing authority in cases last year, can largely be summed up as operator error.

Some of the specific factors included:

  • No proper look-out/ inattention;
  • Operator inexperience;
  • Excessive speed;
  • Careless/ reckless operation;
  • Hazardous waters.

Even if we’re talking about hazardous waters or inclement weather, our West Palm Beach boating accident attorneys know that the onus is on the boat operator to use reasonable care in checking weather reports and planning accordingly. This is true even for inexperienced boaters, who have a responsibility to know and appreciate the limitations of their boating skills.

Recently in Virginia, a $10.35 million boating accident lawsuit was filed by the parents of a 31-year-old who died in an August collision on the water. According to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, the parents are suing the owners of the boat as well as their 31-year-old son, who was reportedly operating the vessel at the time of the collision. The complaint also alleges defendant was operating the boat at a high rate of speed in the middle of the night. A group had allegedly been out drinking, and decedent and defendant decided to go out on defendant’s parent’s powerboat. The vessel slammed into a bulkhead that was jutting out of the water. The impact of the crash caused decedent to suffer severe injuries, rendering him unable to save himself when he was thrown into the water.

Complainants further allege defendant fled the scene and his parents attempted to help him cover up the accident by allegedly remotely erasing surveillance video from their home security camera from the night of the incident. Defendant vessel operator then went to bed and allegedly pretended to be surprised that decedent was not with them in the morning.

Decedent’s family reported him missing around 10:30 a.m. and his parents took out a small oar boat onto the river and began frantically calling his name, searching for him. He was pulled out of the river about 2 miles from defendants’ home. Authorities then discovered the damage to the powerboat, and concluded it had crashed the night before.

A misdemeanor boating charge was filed against the operator, but it’s not clear if additional criminal charges will be filed. The medical examiner concluded that cause of death was drowning, with blunt force trauma being a contributing factor.

Although the criminal investigation is ongoing, the burden of proof in the civil case is less substantial. Plaintiffs in the wrongful death action will need to show defendant(s):

  • Owed a duty of care to decedent;
  • Defendant(s) breached that duty;
  • That breach of duty caused injury/ wrongful death to decedent.

If you have been injured in a West Palm Beach boating accident, call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Parents of former Richmonder file $10.35 million lawsuit over his boating death in Lancaster, allege cover-up attempt, Nov. 8, 2017, Richmond Times-Dispatch

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Lawsuit Alleges Eclipse Glasses Caused Permanent Blindness, Sept. 10, 2017, West Palm Beach Injury Lawyer Blog

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