Rental Watercraft Injuries
Recreational boating is a huge tourism draw in Florida, with the Marine Industries Association of South Florida reporting marine sales spiked more than 36 percent just between 2010 and 2014. The recreational boating industry in Broward County generates $1.5 billion in sales. Similarly in Miami-Dade, it rakes in $310 million and in Palm Beach, $590 million.
For those who want the opportunity to experience boating or making waves on a personal watercraft, there are ample opportunities to rent a vessel – for a few hours, days or even weeks. It can be an affordable, easy way to enjoy Florida’s beautiful coastline and waterways.
But who is responsible for boating accidents involving rented vessels?
At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale boating accident lawyers know questions of liability surrounding rental watercraft injuries can be tricky. That’s because often, companies who rent vessels to the public require customers to sign a waiver of liability.
These documents assert release of legal responsibility for negligence that might result in injury or even death. Florida courts have generally upheld these releases, but they are by no means absolute. So even if you did sign a waiver of liability, you may still have a case worth pursuing.What Kinds of Rental Boats Are There?
In Florida, you can rent just about any type of vessel you could otherwise buy. Some are more popular than others, depending on the region. Air boats, for example, are popular in the Everglades, while charter boats are more popular along the coastal Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
Each is associated with some level of risk. Some of the most common types of rentals are:
- Smaller boats, such as pedal boats, outrigger motorboats and rowboats
- Rafts and canoes
- Inflatable boats
- Fishing vessels
- Sail boats
- Personal watercraft (i.e., Jet Skis, WaveRunners, Sea-Doos)
- Air boats
Most rental outfits require the person renting the craft to hand over a driver’s license, but boaters are not required to have a license.
However, anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1988 must have a Boating Safety Education ID Card to legally operate a boat in Florida. Even those who are just visiting Florida are bound to this requirement, and there are a number of vendors that offer temporary certification.
Additionally, there are two state statutes that deal with regulation of personal watercraft operation and vessel liveries that that rent watercraft to the public.
F.S. 327.39 , regulation of personal watercraft, requires:
- No operation of the vessel one half-hour before sunrise or one half-hour after sunset;
- Reasonable and prudent operation of the personal watercraft at all times;
- No one under 14 permitted to operate the watercraft (it’s unlawful for anyone to give control or knowingly permit someone under 14 from operating a personal watercraft);
- Any person leasing or renting the personal watercraft to do so without “instruction on the safe handling of personal watercraft,” in compliance with FWC rules;
- There must be a written statement attesting to the rental company having provided adequate instruction.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reports the No. 1 cause of boating accidents in the state is operator inexperience.
F.S. 327.54 , safety regulation of liveries, states liveries can’t knowingly lease, hire or rent a vessel to anyone when:
- The number of persons intending to use the vessel exceeds safe capacity;
- The vessel isn’t seaworthy;
- The vessel doesn’t contain the required safety equipment;
- The horsepower of the motor exceeds the capacity of the vessel;
- The person renting the vessel is under 18.
Even if a rental company compels a customer to sign a waiver of liability, it does not give them authority to break the law. Failure to adhere to these rules could be grounds to challenge the liability waiver.Liability Waivers
The language of liability waivers is often central to injury lawsuits against rental boat companies. If the language is ambiguous or too broad, courts have historically sided in favor of the plaintiff.
However, there is no “magic words” that a company can use or omit in order to make a waiver valid. In 2015, the Florida Supreme Court, considering the case of Sanislo v. Give Kids the World, Inc., ruled despite the absence of the express language referring to “negligence” or “negligent acts,” the waiver of liability in question was still valid.
If you have been injured on a rental watercraft in Florida, contact our experienced injury lawyers to learn more about your options.
Call the injury attorneys at The Ansara Law Firm at (888) 267-2728 or locally at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties.