Just last week, on October 17, a snorkeler was involved in a tragic accident when a speed boat struck him at the Haulover Inlet. According to Officer Jorge Pino of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the victim, who has not been identified, suffered "critical" injuries from being run over by a go fast boat. According to reports, the individual was snorkeling with a friend in the water when they saw a golden speed boat--equipped with five motors--heading towards them. Officer Pino added the snorkelers tried to make their way back into their boat when the victim was struck by one of the boat's multiple motor propellers. The victim was immediately taken to the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Officer Pino stated the FWC is now determining exactly how this run over incident happened. The speed boat's operator was interviewed at the scene and later taken to FWC's headquarters. The operator's father later appeared at the Haulover Marina with an attorney. The attorney gave a statement that the divers did not display the proper flags. This statement conflicts with the information gathered in the FWC's investigation.
The use of a diving flag and the location of said flag in relation to the parties involved will be material issues for a trier of fact in the event that a civil suit arises from this tragic event. Section 327.331(5) of the Florida Statutes states, "Divers must make reasonable efforts to stay within 300 feet of a divers-down flag or buoy on all waters other than rivers, inlets, and navigation channels. A person operating a vessel on waters other than a river, inlet, or navigation channel must make a reasonable effort to maintain a distance of at least 300 feet from any divers-down flag or buoy." No information or evidence has been released regarding the location of the victim or speed boat driver in respects to the diving flag.
General maritime law (federal law) may also play a role in this terrible incident. For example, the Shipowner's Limitation of Liability Act is a law that is often used by shipowners to limit their legal liability for a maritime casualty. Keith Brais and Richard Rusak, the admiralty & maritime experts at Brais, Brais & Rusak have even authored and published an article on the Act, discussing how it has been used by shipowners as a tool to stay actions, bring claims in concurus before a federal district court, as well as to exonerate or limit themselves from liability stemming from maritime accidents.
Cases involving these state and federal laws are best left for attorneys who have spent their careers practicing in this comprehensive area of the law. While these maritime accidents are regrettable and tragic, proper legal representation may very well determine whether the case could be favorably resolved and, more importantly, whether liable parties can be held accountable for their actions. The admiralty & maritime specialists at Brais, Brais & Rusak are here to help. Our admiralty and maritime lawyers have over 35 years of experience handling these types of maritime injury cases including serious dive injuries and deaths.