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Articles Posted in Boating Accidents

In Florida, where sunshine and warm weather attract thousands of tourists and residents to its waters nearly year-round, water activities are a common way to enjoy all that the state has to offer. Unfortunately, water activities involving jet skis and water runners can often pose significant risks to those who operate them—especially if they do not have adequate experience or knowledge of the risks. To best protect yourself on your next vacation, it is important to understand the potential risks of these activities so that you can enjoy your time on the water—but do so safely.

According to a recent local news report, a tragic jet ski crash led to the death of a Florida woman. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported that a jet ski occupied by a man and woman was traveling north on Pablo Creek when the driver attempted to navigate the jet ski under a bridge while traveling approximately 20 to 25 miles per hour. The male driver crouched down to drive under the bridge, but his female passenger failed to crouch down and struck her head. After she collided with the bridge, she was thrown into the water. She was pulled from the water and brought on to the shore by the St. Johns County Fire Rescue, where she was pronounced dead. Local authorities report that the accident is still under investigation.

This jet ski accident is just one of many that take place in Florida when the state’s waters are crowded during the warmer months. Although many Floridians are familiar with jet skis, they may not fully understand the risks of operating or owning one, or the corresponding laws.

Personal Watercrafts (PWC) such as Jet Skis, WaveRunners, and Sea-Doos, are popular on Florida’s vast coastline. However, according to the United States Coast Guard (USCG), Florida PWC riders and passengers have a higher collision rate than almost any other type of watercraft. PWC accidents occur for various reasons, including operator inexperience, excessive risk-taking, and noncompliance with water safety rules.

Inexperienced operators and passengers are one of the leading causes of PWC accidents in Florida. According to the USCG, the majority of accidents involve operators between the ages of 11 to 20. Only approximately 18% of the accident claims involved owners, meaning that most injury victims do not involve an owner but instead friends or family members. Although some newer PWC models have special settings for new riders that limit the power output, many models do not have this safety function. Moreover, the USCG and National Transportation Safety Board report that over 80% of PWC accidents occur less than an hour into a ride. Nearly half of PWC injury victims reported never operating a device before the accident. As such, the majority of PWC accidents involve young, inexperienced, non-owner operators.

In addition, to rider inexperience, accident claims reveal that over 70% of PWC collisions involve another vessel, usually other PWCs. Inexperienced riders are often unfamiliar with how to control their speed and judge appropriate stopping distances. Even those who are familiar with boats and motorcycles have trouble handling PWCs. For instance, PWC’s do not have traditional brakes and can take over 300 feet to stop when the device is going around 60 mph.

When someone brings a wrongful death action in Florida, they will usually ask for both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. Pecuniary damages are damages that can be specific and represent a quantifiable monetary amount. For example, pecuniary damages may be awarded in the amount of a deceased’s medical bills, or to cover the specific funeral and burial costs in a wrongful death lawsuit. Non-pecuniary damages, on the other hand, are damages that cannot be measured precisely. For example, money to compensate for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium may be estimated and awarded as non-pecuniary damages.

Recently, the Eleventh Circuit released an opinion discussing pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages—and related choice of law concerns—in a wrongful death case. According to the court’s written opinion, the case arose when a Wisconsin citizen and his wife took a cruise aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. While the ship was docked in Juneau, Alaska, he began experiencing shortness of breath and went to the ship’s infirmary. The ship’s physician examined him and gave him prescription medication. He then returned to his quarters, where he collapsed. He was taken to the hospital in Alaska but unfortunately died of a heart attack several days later.

The daughter of the deceased, also the personal representative of his estate, sued Royal Caribbean for negligence in medical care and treatment. She brought suit in the Southern District of Florida as required by the forum selection clause on the cruise ticket. After trial, a jury found Royal Caribbean liable and awarded the plaintiff $3,384,073.22 in damages, $3,360,000 of which represented non-pecuniary damages. Royal Caribbean appealed.

Florida boating accidents tend to present injury victims with more hurdles than a typical motor vehicle accident. In addition to complex state and federal laws, these cases often involve special clauses in insurance policies that restrict recovery. Bodies of water are subject to various regulations; however, despite the presence of these laws, many Floridians eschew these imperative health and safety laws. This disregard of the law can lead to serious and life-long debilitating injuries.

The most common types of Florida boating accidents involving a collision with other vessels or stationary objects, flooding, grounding, and overboard falls. Many activities increase the likelihood of a boating accident. Some activities include alcohol or drug use, speeding, failure to vent, improper lookout, navigation violations, operator inattention or inexperience, and sharp turns.

For instance, the Fourth District Court recently issued an opinion in a case stemming from a Florida boating accident. In that case, the boat owner gave his son permission to operate his boat and allow others to operate the boat. On one occasion, the son took his boat out with three of his friends. All of the individuals on the boat were under 21-years-old; however, they consumed an unknown amount of alcohol. When they were heading back to shore, the owner’s son permitted one of the young women on board to operate the boat. The woman slammed the boat into a channel, and the owner’s son and another passenger were thrown off the boat. At the time of the accident, the boat was insured under the owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. The passenger filed a lawsuit against the boat’s owner, his son, and the young woman.

Florida landowners or occupiers have certain duties towards people who come on their property. The duties owed toward individuals depends on the relationship between the landowner and the entrant. The three classes of entrants recognized in Florida premises liability cases are invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Florida landowners and occupiers owe some degree of duty towards all three classes of entrants.

In the case of an “obvious danger,” Florida law recognizes that people can be assumed to perceive such dangers. If there is an obvious danger, a landowner or occupier may not be obligated to warn others of those dangers. Yet, a landowner is still required to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition. This means that even if a landowner is relieved of warning others of apparent dangers, the landowner could still be liable for failing to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition.

A recent case before a federal appeals court showed how a property owner could be liable for failing to warn of a hazard and also of failing to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition. In that case, the plaintiff tripped on the leg of a lounge chair when she was walking on a cruise ship. While on their way to a restaurant on the cruise ship, the plaintiff had to walk on a curved walkway between a row of lounge chairs and the ship’s railing. The plaintiff said that the space was so narrow that she walked behind her husband, which she said obstructed her view, and, that while she was walking, she tripped on the leg of a lounge chair, causing her to fall.

When someone is injured in a Florida workplace accident, compensation may be available through several sources. One option for the injured employee is to apply for Florida workers’ compensation benefits. One good thing about workers’ compensation benefits is that an employee can obtain benefits without a showing of fault. However, these benefits are limited in that an employee can only recover economic damages. This means an employee is not able to obtain compensation for their emotional pain and suffering.

Another option for those who have been injured in a Florida workplace accident is to pursue a personal injury claim against their employer. However, as a general rule, an injured employee’s sole remedy against their employer is a workers’ compensation claim. Thus, many employees are foreclosed from pursuing a Florida personal injury claim against their employer.

That is not the case, however, for maritime workers. Under the Jones Act, those seamen who are injured or killed in the course of their employment may be able to pursue a claim against their employer. (Note: Florida railroad workers enjoy a similar benefit under the Federal Employment Liability Act.) It is important to note, however, that an employee who brings a claim under the Jones Act must establish that their employer was negligent. As a recent case illustrates, the duties that a maritime employer owes to its employees may be unfamiliar to those without advanced knowledge of the industry.

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Boating, like any other method of transportation, has its inherent risks. While most boats are safely constructed, and most operators are knowledgeable about how to safely operate a marine vessel, accidents can happen, especially when a boat is being operated by an inexperienced or intoxicated driver.In Florida, there is no special license needed to operate a boat. In fact, anyone born before 1988 does not need any certification to operate a boat. Those born after January 1, 1988 must obtain a Boating Safety Education I.D. card issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. However, once obtained, this card is valid for life.

Air boat tours are popular across Florida. While air boat operators are normally experienced, in Florida, there is no requirement that these boats have any safety devices, such as seat belts, airbags, or even windshields. These boats do not have brakes and are often operated at a high rate of speed. In addition, due to the design of these boats, they are capable of suddenly stopping short if driven over dry land.

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