Boat at sea

How Is Fault Determined in a Florida Boat Accident?

Over 960,000 boats are legally registered in Florida, and summertime is the peak season for boating. However, if you’re injured in a boating accident because someone else was careless, you will need to discuss your legal rights and options with a Miami personal injury lawyer.

Florida’s majestic lakes and rivers – and of course, our beautiful coastlines – are always a delight, but boating also can be dangerous. Across the nation in 2018, according to the Coast Guard, boat accidents resulted in 633 fatalities – 58 in Florida – and over 2,500 serious injuries.

If you’re injured while boating in south Florida because another person was negligent, what is your recourse? What steps should you take? Can you be compensated for your medical costs and lost wages? How does the legal process work in these cases?

If you continue reading, you will learn the answers to these questions, and you’ll also learn more about your rights if you become an injured victim of negligence in this state.

If You’re Injured by Negligence, What Are Your Rights?

Under Florida law, if you’re injured on a boat because the operator – or a different boater – was negligent, you’re entitled to full compensation – the legal term is “damages” – for the medical expenses, lost earnings, and any other accident-related expenses and losses you may suffer.

Still, being “entitled” doesn’t mean that compensation is simply handed to you. If you’re injured in a boating accident, you will need a strong boating injury attorney to help you prove that you were injured because someone else was negligent.

How Does the Law Define Negligence?

Getting injured doesn’t always mean that another person was negligent. The definition of negligence is another person’s identifiable and particular failure to behave (in this case, to operate a boat) with reasonable caution and care.

To help you understand how personal injury claims work for boating injuries, you need to know the main types of boat accidents. A boat may hit:

  • land
  • a wave
  • a different boat
  • a different boat’s wake
  • a submerged rock or another object

How Is Liability for Boating Accidents Determined?

When motorboats collide, both operators may be partially liable, and anyone injured may have an injury claim against both. In Florida, an injured boat operator may only file a claim against the other operator when the injured boater is less than fifty percent liable for the accident.

If a collision happens involving a motorboat and a sailboat, in most cases, the motorboat’s operator will be deemed liable, because safe boating requires a motorboat to keep its distance from sailboats.

If a boat runs into a huge wake or wave, the force may knock passengers over or even propel them overboard. Who has responsibility for these incidents may not be easy to determine.

What Factors Are Considered When Determining Liability?

The law requires a boat operator to be watchful for any potential hazards, but liability for a wake or wave accident will depend on factors that include:

  • the type of boat and its speed
  • the size of a wake or wave
  • visibility when the accident happened
  • other boat traffic when the accident happened
  • if the operator alerted passengers about a wake or wave accident that was impending

What About Liability in Wave and Wake Accidents?

If a boat creates a wake and causes a collision, the operator may have liability, but everything hinges on the details. When a boat leaves a large wake by speeding in dense boat traffic, and an accident happens, the operator may be negligent in creating the wake.

In a wave accident, liability – if there is any – will depend on the details of the incident.

In poor weather with little visibility, a boat may crash into a jetty or even run aground. But even with good weather, a boat may collide with something that is submerged. Again, liability will hinge on the details of the incident.

If you use nautical charts, keep a safe speed, and operate a boat cautiously, hitting a submerged object probably won’t be deemed as negligent, but if a boater operates a boat carelessly, hits something while speeding, and injures someone, that boater will probably be found negligent.

What Is Required by Law?

In Florida, both state and federal law require even small boats to have safety equipment including a life jacket for every passenger, navigational lights, flares, whistles, lifesaver rings, and fire extinguishers.

When a boat is disabled or someone falls overboard, a boat’s safety equipment can make a difference. Failure to have safety equipment onboard could trigger a claim of negligence against the owner or operator if someone is injured.

What Can a Victim of Negligence Expect to Receive?

Legally, if you’re injured because a boat’s operator was negligent, it’s comparable to an injury in an auto crash caused by another driver’s carelessness. If you’re able to prove, with your attorney’s help, that such negligence directly caused your injury, you may be compensated for:

  • all injury-related medical treatment and related future medical expenses
  • amputation, disfigurement, and temporary or permanent disability
  • lost earnings and the loss of future earnings capacity
  • personal suffering and pain and loss of the “enjoyment of life”

Not Every Injury Victim Will Be Compensated

Even if a boat’s operator is liable for injuries, if that person has no insurance or assets, you may not be able to obtain compensation. Auto insurance coverage doesn’t extend to boats, and while homeowners insurance may offer coverage, many people have no homeowners insurance.

For a boating injury, you probably can’t pursue an injury claim against your personal auto or homeowners policy, either. Homeowners' insurance rarely covers an uninsured third party’s negligence.

An injury attorney who represents an injured victim of negligence will do the research to find every potential source of compensation. If a defective boat or boat part caused an accident and injuries, the injury victim may have a claim against that boat’s or part’s manufacturer.

An Attorney’s Help Is Essential

If you’re injured by a boater who was operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and if the boater is convicted of boating under the influence, the conviction becomes persuasive evidence in support of your personal injury claim.

If you are injured in a boating accident in south Florida, let a Miami personal injury lawyer provide the sound advice you will need and suggest the best way for you to move forward. Your injury attorney will aggressively advocate for the justice – and for the compensation – you need.