The South Florida Sun Sentinel recently reported about an airboat accident in the Florida Everglades near the Miami-Dade & Broward County line wherein two people were injured when an airboat struck a tree. Airboat accidents often occur in Florida injuring several people each year. Pinpointing where the accident occured is important as the law and types of claims / damages will differ depending on if the accident happened on "navigable" or "non-navigable" waters. This article is meant to explain the differences between the law, claims and damages that govern airboat tour accidents.
The Accident's Location
The first question that must be asked is whether the accident occurred on "navigable" or "non-navigable" waters. If the accident occurred on navigable waters, Federal maritime law will govern the lawsuit. If the accident occurred on non-navigable waters, Florida state law will govern.
"Navigable waters" is not defined by any statute and is one of those legal terms which can be confusing. The Supreme Court determined navigable waters to mean waterways that are used or capable of being used as "highways of commerce." Courts generally look to see if the waterway can be used to transport a boat to the ocean or between two states. For example, if the accident occurred on a canal in the Everglades that leads to Florida Bay, the accident happened on navigable waters. However, if the accident occurred on one of the many landlocked ponds in the Everglades, the accident happened on non-navigable waters.
Standard of Care
Why Navigability Matters
As mentioned above, if the accident occurred on navigable waters, Federal maritime law applies. The standard of care owed to passengers under Federal maritime law is "reasonable care under the circumstances". Simply put, this means would a reasonable person act in the same manner as the airboat operator in the same situation.
If the accident occurred on non-navigable waters Florida state law applies. The standard of care owed to passengers under Florida law is the highest degree of care that is consistent with the type of transportation. This is a much higher standard than the Federal maritime law of reasonable care under the circumstances.
Types of Claims & Damages
Both Federal maritime law and Florida law recognize compensatory damages for medical bills, pain, suffering, loss of the enjoyment of life, disfigurement, mental anguish and lost wages. Federal maritime law, however, does not recognize a loss of consortium claim, but Florida law does. Loss of consortium comes in two forms (spousal and parental).
Spousal consortium is a claim brought by the spouse of an injured person. This claim allows damages that will fairly and adequately compensate the non-injured spouse for any loss by reason of the injured spouse's injury, including loss of services, comfort, society and attention in the past and in the future caused by the incident in question.
Parental consortium is a claim brought by the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) of an injured child. This claim allows damages for any loss by the parent(s) / guardian(s) by reason of their child's injury, including loss of companionship, society, love, affection, and solace in the past and in the future until the child reaches the age of majority.
In summation, the location of an airboat's accident has a direct impact on what law, types of claims and damages that can be sought. If you or a loved one was injured in an airboat tour accident and wish to know more about this area of the law, please contact our board certified maritime attorneys.