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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently released the 2020 Boating Accident Statistical Report, which reported 402 boating accidents involving collisions. A whopping 44% of them were due to the operator’s inattention or failure to maintain a proper lookout. Of the top counties in Florida for boating accidents, Palm Beach County ranked third with six fatal accidents, 10 accidents with injury and 40 accidents without injury. According to the report, the most common reasons for boating accidents are the operator is distracted or inexperienced; the lookout person is negligent; use of drugs or alcohol; speeding; lack of maintenance or proper equipment; adverse weather conditions or water surges; and not following navigational rules.
With almost half of the boating accidents that involved collisions being caused by operator error, this is a time to remember that impaired driving is impaired driving, no matter the vehicle. We must be diligent and responsible anytime we get behind the wheel — regardless of what type of machinery it is. Too many boaters forget that when they get behind the wheel, they are driving a vehicle and not just having fun on the water. With summer in full swing, now is a great time to review boating safety rules, precautions and to make sure your maintenance is up to date.
Follow these tips to ensure you are boating safely:
- Wear a life jacket.
- Take a boating course.
- Schedule a vessel safety check.
- Equip your boat with an emergency kit.
- Make sure all boat guests are familiar with how to use each of the items.
- Do not drink and drive.
- Be prepared for weather changes.
- Know where you are at all times.
- Know how to contact the Coast Guard in case of an emergency.
If you are injured in a boating accident, there are certain steps you must take to prove your claim and the value of damages you have suffered to maximize your potential compensation.
- First, make sure that you, your passengers and your property are out of harm’s way.
- Second, immediately seek medical treatment, no matter how minor you think the accident was. However, do not leave the scene of the accident unless it is with a trained medical professional. Florida Statute 327.30(5) prohibits anyone operating a boat involved in an accident or injury from leaving the scene until they have given “all possible aid to persons involved” in the accident; made a “reasonable effort to locate the owner or persons” affected in the accident; and notified law enforcement personnel.
- Report the accident to law enforcement if it is serious. While minor boating accidents don’t require you to notify local law enforcement, Florida law requires that you report a “serious” boating accident. An accident is considered “serious” when there is property damage totaling at least $2,000, serious injuries that require professional medical treatment beyond first aid, and of course, the death or disappearance of anyone on board all boats involved in the accident.
- Exchange information with all involved parties, including name, address and insurance information of the vessel’s owners.
- Observe the scene and quickly gather all evidence as soon as possible before the scene is altered in any way. Photograph the scene of the accident, the vessels involved and any property damage that has occurred. Pay attention to the weather conditions and make a note of the environment should wind, rain, etc. be involved. Talk to any witnesses you can find and record their statements and when you get medical treatment be sure to save all of your bills.
According to Florida law, the party responsible for the boating accident is generally liable to pay compensation to the injured party. However, you will have to prove that the party that you are suing was negligent. Florida is a pure comparative negligence state, meaning a court will determine to what extent each party was responsible. They will assign each party a percentage of the blame for the accident and if you share a portion of fault, your damages will be reduced proportionally.
Finally, do not delay filing a claim. In Florida, the statute of limitations for negligence claims is usually just four years. Immediately contact a lawyer to help guide you through the legal process. An experienced attorney will help you understand your rights, help you gather evidence, calculate your damages, and maximize your compensation.
Michael Pike is a business litigation and personal injury attorney. He is an avid boater. He is also managing partner of Pike & Lustig, LLP, a firm with offices in West Palm Beach, Miami and Palm Beach Gardens. He lives in Wellington with his wife and two daughters. Visit PikeLustig.com.