Boat Accident Liability
Recently, a young man lost his life in a tragic boating accident that occurred near Vero Beach. Although authorities are still investigating the crash, initial reports indicate that the 17 foot boat, which was carrying six passengers, struck a channel marker while traveling on the Indian River around midnight. Another passenger suffered serious lacerations to his spleen.
Types of Boating Accidents
The most common types of boating accidents involve the following situations:
- One boat colliding with another boat;
- One boat hitting another boat’s wake;
- A boat hitting a wave; and
- A boat colliding with a submerged object.
Although those who are injured while boating may be able to collect compensation for their losses, they will first need to demonstrate that someone else’s negligence caused the accident.
Who is Liable?
When two boats collide, both operators will usually be held at least partially at fault, as both should have used reasonable care to avoid the accident. The issue becomes a bit more complicated when an injury is sustained because one boat hit another boat’s wake. In these situations, courts look at a number of different factors to determine whether the operator was at fault in failing to avoid the collision, including:
- The size of the wake;
- The speed at which the boat was traveling prior to the collision;
- The weather conditions and visibility at the time of the accident;
- The level of boat traffic in the area where the accident occurred;
- Whether the operator warned his or her passengers that the boat was approaching a large wake; and
- Whether the injured party was on a motorboat or sailboat, as motorboat operators are generally required to stay out of the way of sailboats, which are unable to maneuver as easily.
The person who created the wake may also be held accountable for injuries sustained by another boat’s occupants if:
- The boats were in a no wake zone at the time of the accident; or
- The area was crowded with other boats at the time of the accident.
Courts will undertake a similar analysis in cases where a boat collided with a wave. However, in these situations, there is no other boat operator to hold accountable, so liability will rest solely on the person who was driving in the boat with the injured party. Finally, when boat operators collide with a fixed object, such as a submerged rock or jetty, they can be held liable for resulting injuries if the driver:
- Was speeding through dense fog or in poor weather conditions;
- Failed to use care in avoiding visible obstacles; and
- Was not using a GPS or a nautical chart.
Both federal and state boating laws require operators to equip their boats with safety equipment, such as:
- Life jackets for each passenger;
- Life rings;
- Navigational lights;
- Loud whistles; and
- Fire extinguishers.
Although failing to have this type of equipment onboard will not cause an accident, it can significantly impede rescue efforts. As a result, a boat owner’s failure to have appropriate safety equipment onboard could be enough to sustain a negligence claim if the lack of access to safety gear contributed to an injury. Furthermore, most boat operators in Florida must complete a boater safety course and have a photographic id card and boating safety education id card in their possession.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
To speak with an experienced personal injury attorney about your own case, please contact Boone & Davis at 954-566-9919. A member of our legal team can also be reached via live chat. Our Fort Lauderdale attorneys are eager to help you today.