Wrongful Death Boating Accidents

South Florida is a boating mecca. It is also – hands down – the deadliest state for boaters. It has consistently ranked No. 1 for the most fatal boating accidents nationally for years, according to data from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

There are more than 930,000 registered vessels in Florida, and the fatality rate in recent years has hovered somewhere between 6 and 8 per 100,000 vessels over the last several years. The leading cause of death in fatal boating accidents is drowning (underscoring the fact that life jackets indeed safe lives). Alcohol or drug use is reported to have played a role in 1 in 5 Florida boating deaths.

At The Ansara Law Firm, our dedicated wrongful death lawyers in Fort Lauderdale are committed to protecting the rights and furthering the best interests of survivors.

Of the top 11 counties for boating accidents in Florida, Broward County ranked No. 6, Miami-Dade No. 2 and Palm Beach No. 3. Monroe County, home to the Florida Keys, ranked No. 1.

Our Broward boating death lawyers know that so many of these tragedies are avoidable, preventable when boat operators abide state law and safety guidelines. In looking at vessel operator education, 45 percent of those involved in fatal boating accidents had less than 100 hours of experience.

Although we often think of these incidents as involving tourists, the reality is more than 90 percent of all who die in Florida boating accidents are Florida residents.

Primary causes of Florida boating accidents are:

  • Alcohol use;
  • No proper lookout/ inattention;
  • Operator inexperience;
  • Excessive speed;
  • Overloading;
  • Weather.

Each of these – even weather – point to preventable causes. That’s because while no boater can control the weather, it’s reasonably foreseeable to any boater that adverse weather could strike, and they have a duty to prepare for that possibility. That means checking forecasts and responding accordingly when there is a high potential for bad weather.

Liability of Boat Operators

Although enforcement of boating regulation is notoriously lax in Florida, it remains that operators owe the same duty of care as those of other types of vehicles. Namely, this is the duty to operate the vessel in a reasonably safe manner. It’s not necessary in boating accident negligence cases to prove the operator intended to cause a death or even that they committed a crime. Rather, what we must show is negligence.

Negligence is one of the most basic concepts in personal injury law, with most injury and wrongful death claims resting on this theory. Florida Civil Instruction 401.4 states that negligence is the failure to use reasonable care. In general, plaintiffs asserting negligence need to show:

  • Defendant owed plaintiff a duty of care (i.e., the duty to operate the boat in a reasonably safe manner);
  • Defendant breached that duty;
  • The breach caused the injuries/ wrongful death;
  • Damages (typically in monetized form) were sustained (i.e., the loss of life).

Criminal conduct can sometimes also be negligent conduct (i.e., negligence per se), but an action doesn’t have to be criminal to be negligent. Negligence per se is something of a shortcut to proving negligence when a boating operator violated a statute intended to protect the public from harm. An example would be boating under the influence (BUI), as outlined in F.S. 327.35.

Although Florida law does not require insurance for recreational vessels, most lenders require coverage (if the owner has taken out a loan to purchase the boat, which is common). But even boaters who own their vessel outright are smart to obtain liability insurance, at minimum, because otherwise they may be held personally liable injuries or wrongful death, which can put their personal assets in jeopardy.

If a deadly boating accident occurs while someone is on an excursion, renting a vessel or as a member of one of the increasingly popular “boat clubs,” the company could be liable as well. However, this may depend on whether a waiver of liability was signed and what the terms of that release were. A waiver can prevent you from seeking damages – or certain types of damages – but it’s typically worthwhile to have an attorney review it to be sure.

Unlike in criminal cases, which require guilt to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, civil cases are decided based on the greater weight of the evidence, meaning the more persuasive and convincing force and effect of the entire evidence in the case.

In the event the boating operator’s actions involved intentional misconduct or gross negligence, as defined in F.S. 768.72, one may also be permitted to seek punitive damages, intended to punish the defendant.

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

One key difference between pursing action for injuries and pursuing action for wrongful death is the time constraint.

In a personal injury lawsuit, one has four years from the cause of action (usually the date of the accident) in which to file a claim for damages.

However, in a wrongful death case, you have just two years, usually from the date of death.

Because these incidents occur on the water, rather than on land, there could also be maritime laws that come into play that could complicate matters. It’s important to speak with a wrongful death attorney in South Florida as soon as possible after the boating accident.

Fort Lauderdale Injury Lawyer – (954) 761-4011 – Free Consultation

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