State Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Government Defendant in Boating Accident Case

The Iowa Supreme Court recently released a decision in which they affirmed a lower court’s decision in a wrongful death case filed by the family of a boy who was killed in a boating accident on a lake. The claim, which had been made against the state Department of Natural Resources, alleged that the state agency was liable for damages by allowing a submerged dredge pipe to be kept in the lake, creating an unreasonably dangerous condition that resulted in the deadly accident. Based on the most recent ruling, the plaintiffs will be unable to recover damages from the Department of Natural Resources for the death of their son.

Boat Operator Ignores Warning Buoys and Crashes Into Submerged Pipe

The plaintiffs in the case of McFarlin v. State were the surviving family members of a boy who was killed while riding in a speedboat on an Iowa lake. According to the facts noted in the appellate opinion, the operator of the boat and the boy’s mother’s boyfriend failed to notice or avoid a submerged dredge pipe that had been placed in the lake by the defendant. The boat operator drove the boat between two warning buoys, colliding with the submerged pipe and flipping the engine up into the passenger compartment of the boat. The propeller, which was still moving at this time, struck the boy and killed him.

The Plaintiffs’ Allegations Against the Defendant

After the boy’s death, the plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the state agency that was responsible for the placement of the dredge pipe. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, the defendant should be held accountable for the damages because the dredge pipe was placed in the lake in alleged violation of a state regulation that stated such equipment should not be placed in a manner that creates a danger to other users of the lake. The trial court ruled in favor of the defendants early in the case proceedings, finding that the plaintiff could not sue the government for its alleged negligence, based on sovereign immunity grounds.

The Court’s Analysis

On appeal, the court agreed with the lower court’s decision to grant judgment to the defendants, finding two separate reasons why the plaintiff’s complaint failed. First, the court ruled that the state regulation allegedly violated by the defendant by their placement of the dredge pipe in the chosen location did not give private citizens the right to sue for damages. Furthermore, the court held that the defendant could not be held accountable for the accident under a standard theory of negligence because the defendant was protected by the “public duty doctrine,” which gives governments immunity from lawsuits based solely on the government’s breach of a duty that is owed to the general public. The court found that without a special relationship between the state and the victim, the state cannot be held accountable for the negligence of the boat operator, who ignored valid warnings and caused the crash that killed the boy.

The Public Duty Doctrine in Florida

Florida courts apply a doctrine that is similar to the public duty doctrine that was applied in the McFarlin case. In Florida, there is no duty of care owed by the state to any specific person over and above the duty owed to the public as a whole. If the government violates such a duty without more and causes damages to a citizen, the citizen will be unable to collect damages for their injuries. There are exceptions to the public duty doctrine, as well as other waivers of sovereign immunity that allow the state to be sued in the event of an injury. South Florida victims may be able to recover damages from the state or another government agency, depending on the facts of their case. A qualified Miami boat accident attorney can advise an accident victim on whether they may have a case against the state.

Have You Been Injured in a Boating Accident?

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a boating accident on Florida’s coast, lakes, or waterways, you may be entitled to compensation from the negligent party who caused the accident. Whether the accident was caused by a dangerous condition, an unsafe vehicle, or a negligent operator, the experienced South Florida injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank can help you seek compensation for your losses. At Friedman, Rodman & Frank, we represent clients in the Miami area and throughout South Florida in boat accident and other negligence cases. Contact us to schedule a free consultation and case review. Call toll-free at 877-448-8585 or use our online form to set up a meeting today. Se habla Español / Nou Parlé Creole.

More Blog Posts:

Court Affirms Judgment for Defendant in Case Filed after Fatal Skateboarding Accident, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published June 30, 2016.

State Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Medical Malpractice Plaintiff’s Attempt to Extend Statute of Limitations, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published July 15, 2016.

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