Florida is considered by many a boater’s heaven. Here in the Sunshine State, we have the longest coastline of any state – 8,000 miles. Within our borders, there are more than 2,000 marinas, 3 million acres of lakes, 1,700 miles of rivers and more than 1 million registered vessels – more than anywhere else in the country.
Lee County ranks third in the state for number of boat registrations, and the U.S. Coast Guard estimates 300,000 boats remain unregistered. Additionally, the state’s marine industry is bigger than any other, employing more than 80,000 people and generating more than $10 billion annually.
Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured recognize, however, that the fun comes with a human toll, as every year dozens of people are killed and hundreds more injured in Florida boating accidents. In these instances, grieving families may have the option of filing a wrongful death lawsuit to recover damages.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), there were nearly 740 reported boating accidents in a recent year, resulting in 62 boating fatalities, 420 injuries and eight missing persons. That’s on par with statistics from prior years as well.
Our Fort Myers boating death lawyers know many of these are avoidable tragedies that could have been prevented had boat operators followed applicable laws and recommended safety guidelines.
In analyzing the cause of reportable accidents in recent years, FWC reports the following factors behind boating fatalities in Florida:
- No proper look-out
- Excessive speed
- Operator inexperience
- Operator inattention
- Machinery Failure
- Alcohol/drug use
- Sharp turn
- Improper anchoring
- Congested waters
In more than half of all cases, the operator of the vessel had no boat operator education. The state only requires education for boaters born on or after Jan. 1, 1988. Considering 66 percent of all boat operators involved in fatal crashes in 2013 were over the age of 36, the law isn’t yet as effective as it could be.
Part of the problem is lax enforcement, swayed by the boating industry’s powerful lobbyists, backed by billions in annual profits. The fear is by increasing regulations on equipment and operator qualifications, we’ll be cutting into those proceeds. But the alternative is that we continue to see people die on Florida’s waterways.Liability of Boat Operators
Although regulation and enforcement of boating safety is lacking, boat operators still hold the same duty as operators of any other kind of vehicle to act in a manner that is careful and safe. In civil litigation, it does not matter whether the boat operator intended to cause injury or death. What must instead by proven is negligence.
If the boat operator breaches his or her duty of care and proximately causes a death, the operator could be held liable in civil court for those actions – even if he or she is never prosecuted for a crime.
Some of the top causes of fatal boating accidents listed by the FWC – carelessness, overloading, excessive speed, intoxication – could well be considered proximate breaches of care.
Frequently, boating accidents occur when vessels collide with other vessels or fixed objects, skier mishaps, falling overboard or capsizing. Of those who died, 60 percent drowned, while 26 percent died of trauma.
The vast majority of fatal accidents happened when the boat was in cruising mode.
But the biggest problem appears to be lack of experience. When most people who get behind the wheel of a boat have absolutely no knowledge of how to drive it or what to do when encountering other vessels, swimmers, weather changes or emergencies, the risk of fatality inevitably increases.
It’s worth noting the increasing popularity of “boat clubs,” where individuals pay an annual fee to have access to a fleet of vessels, the company may be liable in situations where there is equipment failure due to lack of maintenance or due caution.Boating Under the Influence
Perhaps one of the clearest cases of negligence in boating accidents is when the operator causes a crash due to intoxication. This is known as “boating under the influence” or BUI.
By law, boat operators in Florida must adhere to the same standards as motor vehicle drivers. F.S. 327.35 holds that a person is guilty of BUI if he or she is under the influence of any substance that causes his or her normal faculties to be impaired. While the state does not bar alcohol aboard boats, operators are considered impaired if their blood-alcohol content meets or exceeds 0.08 percent.
Such violation is criminal, and will result in penalties similar to those meted out for a DUI. It can also be basis for a wrongful death lawsuit, as this is an obvious breach of duty by a boat operator.
Dram shop laws may also be applicable if the operator was under-21 and served alcohol by a dockside bar or other establishment prior to the fatal crash. In those instances, wrongful death litigation could also be filed against the establishment.
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.
Call 800-646-1210 for a Free Consultation