Fort Lauderdale Boating Accident Lawyers
Florida has more registered boats than any other state in the U.S, with 961,266 registered vessels in a recent year, in addition to the estimated one million non-registered vessels that actively use Florida’s waterways. In Fort Lauderdale, with abundant waterways, boating is a favorite recreational activity. Unfortunately, boating can also be risky. Florida ranks No. 1 nationwide in both recreational boating accidents and fatalities. It’s no surprise since Florida has an excellent reputation for its fishing and water sports. Florida’s statistics show that in one recent year, 723 boating accidents took place, which amounted to a 20 percent increase. In these accidents, 65 people died, and 453 suffered injuries. Have you been the victim of a boating accident injury? If so, consult a Fort Lauderdale boating accident lawyer at The Levin Firm to protect your rights and discuss your legal options.
Why do boating accidents happen in Fort Lauderdale?
There are many different types of vessels on the water.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard Boating Accidents Statistical Report, a majority of accidents involved:
- Open motorboat. These vessels are prone to overloading and inexperienced operators. In fact, in one recent year, 54 percent of accidents involved an open motorboat.
- Personal watercraft. These are often high-powered and may become out-of-control in the hands of inexperienced riders.
- Cabin motorboat
Boating is different from driving on the roads because unlike on public streets and highways, there are no clearly marked traffic lanes or signals to help boaters avoid safety hazards and collisions. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) reports that recreational boating accidents happen in a variety of ways, such as flooding, swamping, collisions with other vessels, and striking stationary objects.
Watercraft owners, operators, and passengers have a responsibility to be well-informed and to use good judgment. Inexperience is one of the most serious risks. Approximately 80 percent of the operators involved in fatal accidents had no formal boating education.
Other potential dangers include:
- Occupants who are not safely seated
- Absence of a look-out
- Not heading warnings of hazardous weather
- Operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A person is guilty of boating under the influence if they are operating a vessel on Florida’s waterways, and they have a blood alcohol content of .08 grams of alcohol or are under the influence of drugs. More than one-third of all boating deaths result from collisions involving alcohol use.
- Reckless or careless operation of the boat, especially in an unfamiliar area
- Operating an unsafe boat
- Unsafe fueling practices
- Lack of experience
- Ignorance of proper navigation
- Failure to make necessary repairs or perform routine maintenance
- Endangering swimmers
- Not knowing how to drive the boat or irresponsible boat handling.
What are some frequent injuries resulting from Fort Lauderdale boating accidents?
- Drowning. Approximately 79 percent of those who died in boating accidents drowned. Although swimming skills are a crucial factor, even people who know how to swim can drown. Perhaps they could not swim to safety, were unconscious when they fell in or were pulled underwater after the fall. Of those who drowned nationwide, almost 90 percent of the victims were not wearing life jackets.
- Brain injuries. Victims of a boating accident may suffer a brain injury from a blow to the head during a collision or impact with an underwater object. They may suffer from if they are underwater for too long or are exposed to a dangerous amount of carbon monoxide,
- Spinal injuries. The impact from a crash may cause injuries to the spine or spinal cord. However, if the boat strikes the water too hard or bounces excessively because of the waves or wake from another boat, the boater may suffer spinal compression.
- Whiplash. People often think of whiplash in terms of car accidents, but it can also happen in boating accidents.
- Electrocution. In boats with electrical systems, standing water or poor electrical system maintenance may lead to electrocution. Victims may suffer electrical burns, or tissue or nerve damage, or heart rhythm problems.
- Lacerations. The U.S. Coast Guard reports over 200 non-fatal injuries happen each year from the boat’s propeller striking a person. Victims of propeller accidents also suffer fractures, broken bones, and blunt force trauma.
What are some rules and regulations for Fort Lauderdale boaters?
This Safe Boating Guide contains safety rules and regulations, such as:
- Operating a boat. Anyone born on or after January 1, 1988, who operates a motorized boat of 10 hp or more must obtain a Florida Boating Safety Education I.D. card and must possess a photo ID.
- Vessel registration. Most vessels, except for smaller, non-motorized boats such as canoes or kayaks, must be registered within 30 days of purchase. The boat must clearly display the registration numbers.
- Equipment. All boats must carry one USCG–approved wearable life jacket for each person on board. Also, boats 16 feet or longer must contain readily available approved throwable life-saving devices. Children under six years of age must wear a USCG–approved life jacket at all times while on any vessel less than 26 feet in length that is underway upon Florida waters. Individuals on a personal watercraft and water skiers or others towed behind a boat must wear a life jacket.
Vessels that might have a fire risk must have a Coast Guard-approved, marine-type fire extinguisher. Boats must also have U.S. Coast Guard-approved day and night signals for vessels when required. Experts recommend such devices when operating on all open bodies of water. Boats must have working navigation lights when operating after dark and in poor visibility.
Is insurance required for boating in Fort Lauderdale?
Insurance is not required by law to own or operate a vessel, although most boat owners do carry some type of insurance. However, if you took out a loan using your boat as collateral, the lender will probably require that you have insurance to cover damages to the boat, and most Florida marinas require boat insurance. Therefore, if you suffer an injury in a boating accident and there is not any insurance coverage, or coverage is insufficient, you may pursue other options, such as seeking compensation for your losses from the boat operator or other parties liable for the accident.
How do you determine liability after a Fort Lauderdale boating accident?
To recover damages for boating accident injuries, you must prove that someone’s negligence caused your injuries. Negligence is “A failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.”
Therefore, if the boat operator is at fault, you must show that they did not meet the acceptable standard of care. Negligence claims must establish four things in court. The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed them a legal duty; the defendant failed to meet that duty; the plaintiff was injured, and the defendant’s breach of duty resulted in the injury.
A boat operator owes a duty of care to passengers on board and other boats and swimmers in the area. Still, it can be difficult to ascertain who is responsible for a boating accident. In some cases, fault rests with only one person, in other cases, with more than one person or entity.
Potentially liable parties may include:
- The person driving the boat. He or she may have operated the boat recklessly, failed to provide life jackets or other necessary safety equipment, ignored boating laws, or in general, failed to take reasonable steps to protect passengers from harm.
- The owner of the boat. Often, boat owners casually loan out their boats without too much forethought. The owner may loan the boat to someone who they knew was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or otherwise unqualified to operate it.
- A passenger of the boat. Careless passengers endanger themselves, but also others on board. If the operator of the boat knows a passenger is behaving carelessly or recklessly and did nothing about it, the operator may also be responsible.
- The manufacturer of the boat. Boats have complex mechanical systems. Manufacturers have a responsibility to design, make and distribute boats that work and meet safety standards. If a component of the mechanical system malfunctions or is defective, it may cause a serious accident. Many boating accidents result from engine failure, steering system failure, or failing pumps.
- The rental company. Rental boats must be properly maintained. The company may also be liable if they rent to an operator who is clearly untrained or otherwise incompetent to operate a boat.
- If a crew member is negligent, there may be a cause of action against their employer, under the theory of vicarious liability.
What laws apply to boating in Fort Lauderdale?
Boating laws are very complicated. In some cases, maritime law governs boating accidents. Maritime law (also called admiralty law) is the body of law that applies to domestic maritime activities, and private international law concerning parties operating or using ocean-going ships. Such cases are brought in the federal admiralty court, which has its own set of laws, rules, and procedures. Regardless of whether the matter is filed in state or federal court, principles of federal maritime law are binding on state courts.
Florida’s boating laws state that “Any person operating a vessel upon the waters of this state shall operate the vessel reasonably and prudently, having regard for other waterborne traffic, posted speed and wake restrictions, and all other attendant circumstances so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.” Reckless operation of a vessel is a first-degree misdemeanor.
It is against the law for any person operating a vessel involved in a boating accident to leave the scene without giving all possible aid to anyone injured or in the water following the accident. All vessel operators must report an accident that requires more than immediate first aid or that results in more than $2,000 in property damage to law enforcement as soon as possible.
Florida has established four regulatory zones to keep everyone on the water safe. They are:
- Vessel exclusion areas—These are for the protection of those in swim lanes, surf areas, and wildlife.
- Maximum speed areas—Boats exceeding the posted speed limit may be liable for any damages and injuries they cause.
- Slow speed, minimum wake areas – The vessel must be completely settled in the water and any wake they create must be very small.
- Idle speed, no wake areas—These zones are common near swim lanes.
The issue of negligent entrustment often arises in Florida boating accident cases. If a boat owner loans a vessel to someone an unqualified or incompetent person, the owner may bear responsibility for the resulting injuries.
To make a case of negligent entrustment, the injured person must prove that the individual to whom the boat was entrusted was incompetent to operate the boat in question, that the owner granted permission for the vessel’s use, that the owner knew or should have known that the person driving the boat was not competent to operate the boat and that the operator’s actions or omissions caused the injuries.
What if you signed a waiver of liability before your Fort Lauderdale boating accident?
Boat rental companies typically require renters to sign a waiver of liability, acknowledging the risks involved. If you signed such a document, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible, because depending on the circumstances, you may still have the right to pursue damages. Also, a waiver of liability does not protect anyone from acts of gross negligence.
Why You Need to Call Our Fort Lauderdale Boating Accident Attorneys
After a boating accident in Florida, first responders provide medical care to injured parties. In most cases, law enforcement officers investigate the accident and file a police report. After receiving medical care, the injured person should consult an attorney.
As with any claim, there are important filing deadlines. The location of your accident determines the applicable law and, therefore, the appropriate filing deadline. The deadline for a boat accident governed by Florida law is four years from the date of the accident. The filing deadline for boating accidents where the Admiralty law takes precedence is three years. However, in some circumstances, the deadline is even shorter.
If you have suffered an injury in a boating accident, an experienced Fort Lauderdale personal injury lawyer can protect your rights and fight for the compensation you deserve. For more information or an initial consultation, call The Levin Firm at (954) 715-3260 or contact us online.