Boater Operator Liability
There are few better ways to spend a sunny day in Florida than relaxing on a boat in the Caloosahatchee River or out on the shimmering Gulf of Mexico. However, when boat operators fail to follow laws or boating safety rules, recreation quickly becomes risky.
Watercraft vessels are large and powerful, with potential for serious damage. Boat operators/captains have a duty to observe reasonable care and prudence against not just present dangers but foreseeable perils against which reasonable measures of precaution can be made. Improper or careless boating raises the risk of a collision, drowning, falls and other dangers.
The boating injury attorneys at Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, are dedicated to holding reckless boat operators in Southwest Florida accountable for their actions when they result in serious injury or death.
There is a great deal of case law nationwide governing how we determine boat owner liability.
For example, the 1958 North Carolina Supreme Court decision in Williams v. McSwain held boat operators moving through waters frequented by bathers or other boats have a duty to maintain a lookout such as a reasonably prudent person would in order to discover and avoid injury to others lawfully using the water.
In the 1957 Michigan Supreme Court case of White Estate v. Beauchamp, the court ruled boat operators have a duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of guests and to avoid unreasonable danger. A failure to observe that duty is deemed negligence.
In Florida, prior to 2010, there was no law mandating the completion of boater safety education courses, despite evidence boater inexperience was one of the top causes of waterway collisions and accidents. Today, those who are born after Jan. 1, 1988 have to complete a boater safety course, and must also carry the completion ID and photo ID card on board at all times.
In general, boat operators are prohibited from operating the boat in a manner deemed reckless or dangerous. That can include:
- Improper speed. Operators traveling at speeds greater than what are reasonably prudent based on boating traffic, weather conditions, visibility and other hazards not only break the law, they are putting others in danger. The law prohibits moving at a speed faster than idle or no wake in a posted “No Wake” zone. It also bars traveling at a speed that puts human life or property in danger.
- Exceeding maximum horsepower or loading. A vessel operator who fails to make sure the vessel is safely loaded and not overpowered would be considered negligent in the event someone is hurt as a result. The law in Florida forbids those in monohull vessels smaller than 20 feet long from exceeding the maximum weight, horsepower or capacity listed by the manufacturer.
- Reckless or careless operation. This can include boating under the influence or boating in restricted areas without regard for posted speeds, other boaters, persons, posted speeds or divers-down flags.
- Riding on the deck, gunwale or bow – or allowing anyone else to do so. These areas, as well as on the transom, seat backs or seats on raised decks increase the chances of a passenger falling overboard.
One of the most common offenses by boat operators resulting in injury is consumption of alcohol. The Florida laws against boating under the influence (BUI) are as strict as those governing operation of a roadway motor vehicle. That is, it’s illegal to operate a boat while intoxicated, which legally is when a person has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or higher. Those under 21 with a BAC of 0.02 percent will receive a citation with a minimum mandatory sentence that includes 50 hours of community service, completion of a boaters’ safety education course and completion of an online BUI course. Operating privileges are suspended until the courses are completed.
Despite these harsh penalties, Florida remains No. 1 in terms of boating accidents and injuries, and the majority of those are caused by impaired, inattentive, uneducated, unprepared or reckless operators.
Our experienced Lee County boating accident lawyers are committed to holding them accountable for injuries and damages they cause.
Contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.