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Florida is an amazing place to live and work. Our nickname is the Sunshine State because the vast majority of our year is filled with sunshine and warm temperatures. Florida is also surrounded by water that provides miles and miles of sandy beaches. The great weather and ready access to waterways make Florida a place where residents and visitors alike love to spend time on the water. Water sports like boating, jet skiing, and wind-surfing are more popular here than in any other state in the country. Not surprisingly then, we also have more registered watercraft than any other state.
But the good always comes with a bit of bad, and Florida’s water sports do come with a downside. We are also number one in the nation for boating accidents and fatalities and have steadily held that unfortunate ranking for years.
Florida boating accidents can cause severe injury and even death. If you or a loved one has been injured in a boating accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you may have the right to compensation. Speaking with an experienced boating accident attorney in Florida as soon as possible after an accident can help ensure that your legal rights are protected.
Our Florida maritime attorneys are experienced in the investigation and prosecution of boat and waverunner accident claims. We are known for our responsiveness, thorough and hands-on litigation style, investigative and negotiating skills, and our accessibility to our clients. We go wherever you need us to be.
While less than 10% of boating accidents result in fatalities, nearly half of those occur because of capsizing and falls overboard. An alarming 22% of the boating deaths were caused by alcohol or drug use. Types of recreational boating claims we litigate include:
Recreational boating Accidents
Boating in Florida
Popularity and Lack of Education Are a Bad Combination
In a state where so many watercraft are continually in use, one might think that strict boating regulations exist. However, our state is surprisingly relaxed when it comes to rules about who may operate watercraft. Other states have far fewer waterways but far higher standards when it comes to qualifications to operate a water vehicle.
As an example, let’s consider Alabama. Alabama is not a coastal state. So the only significant waterways in Alabama are lakes and ponds, and their number of registered watercraft is far below the number in Florida. Yet you must possess a license to drive a boat in Alabama. You must take a course on water safety or take a written exam to get this licensure. Under the Florida boating laws, there is no such licensing requirement.
Consumers may applaud the lack of regulations in Florida because it is easier to enjoy watersports when no licensure is required. However, the applause often stops when one considers the number of boating accidents that happen every year in our state.
Florida Has the Most Boating Accidents by Far
If you look at the 2019 Recreational Boating Statistics Report put out by the U.S. Coast Guard, you will see the grim facts spelled out in black and white. Pages 57-58 show the percentages of boating fatalities by state. Florida accounted for a whopping 10.19% of nationwide boating fatalities in 2019. The next closest states are Texas, coming in at 7%, and California, which came in at 6.4%.
Furthermore, if we compare the actual number of accidents reported, Florida again stands out from the rest. In 2019, Florida saw 679 reported boating accidents. This number is colossal compared to the rest of the country. California holds second place with 324 accidents, followed by Texas with a reported 184 accidents. As you can see, Florida holds the dubious distinction of having the most watercraft accidents per year by far. And those accidents can cause many types of personal injuries ranging from mild to severe.
Common Types of Boating Accidents
When you are aware of what types of collisions are most common, it can help you know what to watch out for and avoid while boating.
Many water sports involve towing a person behind a boat in some fashion. Waterskiing comes to mind, but there is also wakeboarding, tubing, kneeboarding, and more. These all require the driver to pull someone who is tethered to the boat, usually at high speeds. In these scenarios, it is easy to see how accidents can happen. The tethered person can crash into many things like the water itself, another water vessel, rocks, or even a dock. Any of these crashes can cause serious injuries.
Of course, one water vessel can crash into another vessel. These types of crashes are much more common than most people think and can have devastating consequences. If all passengers are fortunate enough to remain onboard the vessel, the sudden impact can hurl their bodies against objects that can cause internal or external bruising, bleeding, broken bones, etc. If a passenger is thrown into the water on impact, the danger of drowning is very real. This is particularly true if they hit their head on something or were drinking alcohol prior to the crash. And if you are in a small boat that collides with a yacht or other large vessel, the danger increases.
Pontoons are associated with relaxation on the water. They are not fast vessels, so people typically use them for fishing, sunbathing, or partying. Therefore, most people do not consider pontoons dangerous, but facts do not support this perception. Pontoons account for a surprisingly large portion of accidents, perhaps because people are less cautious and less concerned with safety when using them. People tend to drink alcohol on pontoons, sit outside railings, or ride the bow—all of which are dangerous.
Jet Skiing Accidents
Anyone with an ID card can rent a jet ski in Florida. These and other personal watercraft are fun precisely because they operate at high speeds. But when these high speeds are combined with a lack of experience, choppy waters, a carefree attitude, and even alcohol, tragic results can happen in the blink of an eye.
Common Causes of Boating Accidents
Just as with car accidents, boating accidents happen for a number of reasons. If the operator of a boat has no experience, that is a huge warning sign. Lack of experience and/or proper training means that the operator does not know what to watch out for to avoid collisions or how to operate the boat in a way that poses the least danger to others.
Here are some other things that commonly cause boating accidents:
These causes can then lead to:
- Run-over accidents where the victim gets run over by a vessel;
- Overboard accidents when a passenger falls overboard;
- Drowning accidents that happen regardless of how the victim ended up in the water, which usually involves a boater who is not wearing a life jacket;
- Crew member accidents because the nature of their work has a degree of inherent danger;
- Slip-and-fall accidents when people onboard are thrust about or slip; or
- Propeller accidents when people get too close to the blades that propel the vessel.
This is not an exhaustive list as many things can lead to accidents on the water. But these are common causes, and as you can see, a number of them involve operator negligence.
Types of Boat Injuries
Just like auto accidents, Florida boating accidents can lead to a wide variety of injuries that range from mild to severe. Many boating injuries can plague a victim throughout their entire life, so boating safety cannot be overemphasized.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s 2019 Boating Accident Statistical Report, these are the most common types of injuries sustained in boating accidents.
Our Florida boating accident attorneys have listed them in order of most frequent to least.
- Broken bones,
- Head injuries,
- Internal injuries,
- Back injuries,
- Sprains or strains,
- Teeth and jaw injuries,
- Neck injuries,
- Spinal injuries,
- Shock, and
Keep in mind that within each category above, the level of severity widely fluctuates. For instance, a head injury can be a simple concussion or a traumatic brain injury that alters one’s life permanently.
Who Can Be Held Liable in a Florida Boat Accident?
Depending on the circumstances, liability in a boating accident may not be obvious at first glance.
In fact, sometimes it can be difficult to determine who was at fault, much less prove it in a court of law. Water has a way of destroying evidence, and accident reconstruction can be far more difficult in a boating accident compared to accidents that happen on land. These accidents often require expert assistance.
That is why it is so important to consult with a seasoned Florida boating accident attorney as soon as possible after a crash. They are skilled at assessing boating cases and making a determination as to who is at fault.
At-fault parties can include:
- The boat owner,
- The operator,
- A passenger,
- The boat manufacturer, or
- The rental company who rented the boat.
Let’s take a deeper look into how these parties may be liable.
Boat owners have the responsibility to ensure that anyone using their boat is qualified to operate it safely. Florida does not require a license to operate a boat.
However, those born on or after January 1, 1988, must take a safety class that grants them a Florida Boating Safety Education Identification Card.
Owners need to make sure that anyone who uses their vessel has the necessary experience and/or a safety card. If they knowingly lend the vessel to an unqualified person, they may be held liable.
If the driver of the vessel does not obey safety laws, they may be liable for your injuries.
For instance, life jackets in the correct size must be available for every person on board. If not, liability may attach for injuries that result.
And as previously mentioned, drivers are always responsible for operating the boat as a reasonably prudent person would and to refrain from drinking or using drugs while driving.
If a passenger behaves in a way that interferes with the safety of others or stops the driver from safely guiding the vessel, they can be held liable.
Furthermore, if the operator of the vessel is aware of dangerous behavior onboard, they must do what they can to interfere and block the unruly passenger’s ability to harm others.
If a manufacturer negligently designs or builds a vessel and an accident results, they can be held liable for injuries. This would essentially be a product liability case.
Rental companies have the responsibility of maintaining their fleet and keeping their vessels in good repair so they are safe to use.
If they fail to properly maintain a boat and it causes injury, they could be held liable.
Why Do I Need a Boating Accident Attorney in Florida?
When a boating accident causes you injury, you should speak with a Florida boating accident attorney right away.
Only an experienced lawyer can properly look at the facts and circumstances of your case and let you know if you have a valid claim for recovery.
It takes a trained eye to be able to determine if negligence was involved, who committed the negligence, and what parties can be held responsible.
How to Determine Fault and Damages
If you sustained injuries from a boating accident that someone else caused and those injuries led to financial losses, then you have the right to recover monetary compensation for those losses. Your attorney must get to work examining the evidence to properly ascertain the cause of the accident. They must also determine who was at fault and what damages are recoverable. They must negotiate with the insurance company to get you a settlement that helps get your life back on track as you physically heal. The types of damages you can recover include, but are not limited to:
- Medical costs,
- Pain and suffering,
- Loss of wages,
- Loss of future earnings,
- Loss of companionship, and
- Punitive damages (in limited cases).
The primary purpose of these damage allowances is to make the victim of wrongdoing whole again. If you paid for medical treatment that resulted from the accident, you can be compensated for those costs. If you lost work or if you can no longer perform your job, you can recover those losses as well. Keep in mind that punitive damages are not always granted. In fact, someone has to have acted in a grossly negligent or malicious manner for punitive damages to apply. Your Florida boating accident attorney will know which damage categories you are eligible for.
Florida Boating Accident Attorneys Can Help
Boating accident cases can be complex and contain many moving parts. Each case is unique and requires assessments from highly trained professionals like the lawyers at Grossman Attorneys at Law.
We have handled many boating accidents in Florida, and we know how to get you the compensation you need.