Miami entrepreneur Michael Cappoini was operating his 25’ boat when it collided into a concrete seawall in Biscayne Bay. The crash injured both Cappoini and his guest Brooke Biederman. Cappoini is said to have sustained broken bones and is expected to make a full recovery. Biderman’s injuries were more severe. She was taken to Ryder Trauma Center where she underwent at least one surgery for significant head injury. At last report, Biderman is in critical condition. What makes this incident unique is that the boat is captured by surveillance video seconds before it crashed into the seawall near the Miami Beach Coast Guard Station. The collision, which happened last Friday just after 10 AM, drew the attention of several Coast Guard personnel who rendered immediate assistance. Florida’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is the lead law enforcement agency tasked with investigating the incident.
Recently in Florida Boat Accident Law Category
A 100 foot barge built in 1957 sunk in the Ft. Pierce Inlet drowning a deckhand. The barge was being towed by a 54-foot Gulfstream from Key Biscayne to Georgia. The towing operation was performed by Reed Adams, Charles Griffin, Rodney Grambo and Dominick Tortorice. The decision to attempt the inlet was made when the barge began to take on water offshore. The fast outgoing tide through the inlet proved too much and the half century old barge causing it to break up and sank. Unfortunately, Tortorice did not make it off the barge in time. Reed Adam told media that the barge's superstructure collapsed on Tortorice moments before the vessel when down. Tortorice's body was later found offshore. Authorities suspect the outgoing tide carried his body away from the accident scene.
Ft. Pierce Inlet was closed after the event as the Coast Guard feared other boats may strike the sunken barge causing additional accidents. The inlet has been since reopened to recreational boats with drafts less than six feet upon clearance from an official managing vessel traffic in the area.
The barge has been reported to be in two pieces and has created a debris filed in and around the inlet. Given the swift current in Ft. Pierce Inlet, the depth where the barge sank and its weaken condition, Coast Guard indicated it will be difficult to remove the wreck. The salvage operation is being performed by Resolve Marine Group based out of Ft. Lauderdale. No time table has been set for when the barge will be removed and the inlet completely reopened.
A tug and barge owner owes the deckhands working for it the legal duty to provide a vessel that is seaworthy and reasonably fit for its intended purpose. Should a deckhand become injured or die as a result of an unseaworthy barge, maritime law allows the seaman or his estate to recover certain money damages. The amount of damages depend on the circumstances.
A private and a Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission airboat collided in the Everglades last Tuesday injuring two women passengers. The crash happened a mile and a half south of mile marker 34 off I-75 in Broward County around 12:50 p.m. The impact from the accident left the private airboat inoperable. One of the injured women is a 24-year-old University of Florida student who was aboard the Wildlife Conservation Commission preforming research on bats. The other is a 37-year-old woman who sustained more serious injuries. Both injured passengers were placed on the Wildlife Conservation Commission airboat and transported to land before being taken to the hospital. The Marine Division of the Broward County Sheriffs Office is investigating the accident.
76-year-old German Diaz of Hollywood, Florida has died when the 16 foot boat he and family members were aboard overturned in bad weather. The accident happened on February 4th just off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. Reports state Diaz and four member of his family were fishing when the weather conditions deteriorated. They tied the boat to a buoy to ride out the storm. When they tried to untie the line, it got tangled with the propeller causing the boat because to take on water before overturning. Everyone in the group were able to hold onto the overturned boat except Diaz. Divers ultimately found Diaz trapped under the boat wearing his life jacket.
Miami law enforcement is investigating a boat accident that sent one passenger to the hospital. It appears from facts reported from various new sources that nine people -- five women and four men between the ages of 18 and 24 -- were aboard a 19 foot jet-boat when it crashed into a wood piling about 8:30 PM on the night of January 24th. 911 was called on scene by one of the passengers.
The boating accident happened in Biscayne Bay several hundred feet from Sea Isle Marina near 16th Street and North Bayshore Dive. The crash caused the passengers to be thrown inside the boat. Luckily no one was ejected. A woman passenger, however, was taken to Ryder Trauma Center for her injuries. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Captain, Ignatius Carroll stated, "The other eight people that are here on scene seem to be okay, but obviously they are very shaken up by what happened and they are being interviewed by FWC, who will determine the cause of this incident and how it could have been prevented."
Alcohol is suspected to be involved. The boat's operator was charged with boating under the influence after given a field sobriety test. This is another in a long string of accidents which occurred in Biscayne Bay where the operator was suspected of boating under the influence. Under Florida law, to be convicted for boating under the influence, the operator must have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher.
Run Over Haulover Snorkeler Brings Maritime Tort and Lien Against 43' Midnight Express Named The Golden Rule
The Florida Admiralty and Maritime Board Certified attorneys of Brais, Brais & Rusak filed a verified complaint in rem against a 43' Midnight Express go-fast boat for allegedly running over Marc Craddock while snorkeling more than 1 mile off Haulover Inlet. The all gold colored speed boat, aptly named The Golden Rule, equipped with five outboard engines is technically owed by FLC Marine LLC., a Florida limited liability company, whose managers are Adam Gordon and his father Michael Gordon.
Court documents state The Golden Rule was returning from the Bahamas on October 17th when it ran over Mr. Craddock causing life-threatening injuries. Mr. Craddock was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami and underwent multiple emergency surgeries before being transferred to an Orlando hospital.
Local news outlets are reporting that a young boy and a woman were killed in a boating accident on the Indian River near the Eau Gallie Causeway in Melbourne. Eyewitnesses at the scene stated that the 18-foot boat flipped over when attempting to assist a sailboat in distress. Four of the other people on the boat were rescued by good Samaritans as well as first responders. The victims of the boating accident, Ares Aronoyos and Stephanie Coleman were taken to Holmes Regional Medical Center, where they were pronounced dead. Florida Fish and Wildlife is handling the investigation
Boat accidents are nothing new in Miami. Sun, fun, inexperienced operators and alcohol all play a role in both recent and past boating tragedies. After such horrific events there is a public outcry for more law enforcement and tougher laws aimed to prevent more injuries and deaths. This is a normal and well intended reaction. However, flying under the radar from public scrutiny is an over 150-year-old Federal law that allows boat owners, or should it be said the boat owners' insurance companies, the ability to limit the amount of money damages paid to the victims of the boat accidents to the post-loss value of the vessels. This law, known as the Limitation of Liability Act, can be devastating to an already overwhelming situation. Imagine a situation where a boat passenger who one minute was enjoying a holiday weekend and the next cannot walk or the children left parentless after the accident. This statute allows the boat owners to ask a Federal judge to limit the amount they must compensate these victims to a few thousand dollars or less.
It seems every holiday weekend someone has lost their life in a boat crash on Biscayne Bay. Ernesto Hernandez was killed in May when a boat operated by DJ Laz backed over him on Nixon Beach in Key Biscayne. On Memorial Day Weekend, Giovanna Patricia Santos was killed when the boat on which she was a passenger collided with an anchored boat near Elliot Key. Now this past 4th of July weekend, four people died and several other injured when three boats collided near Dinner Key in Coconut Grove.
This past tragedy occurred after a fireworks show. After the fireworks concluded, many boats began racing back to the marina. Reports state that a 32-foot Contender center-console boat operated by Andrew Garcia collided with another vessel owned by the Hanono family. Garcia and most of his passengers were ejected causing the unmanned boat to collide with another.
Multiple news agencies are reporting on a fatal boating accident that occurred near Elliot Key late Sunday (May 25, 2014). The incident occurred between 10:30 and 11:30 p.m. when a 23' boat collided with larger 36' anchored vessel. Giovanna Patricia Santos of Weston, Florida and two men were aboard the 23' boat. The collision was so traumatic that Santos was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital and the men were airlifted to Kendall Regional hospital with serious injuries. Tragically Ms. Santos died from her injuries.
The operator of the boat, Felipe Escobar, is suspected of boating under the influence. Jorge Pino of Florida's Fish and Wildlife Commission stated, "Our investigators felt that there was enough probable cause based on the odor of alcohol that was coming from the operator's person for us to do a forced blood draw on him." The toxicology results are pending.
The two people aboard the anchored 36' boat vessel were sleeping at the time of the accident and weren't injured. Investigator found the anchored boat was properly lit.
In a rather shocking opinion, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has found seamen who develop ailments, including heart disease, cause by work related stress have no claim against their employers under the Jones Act.
The Jones Act provides seamen injured by the negligence of their employers a cause of action to recover money damages to compensate them for pain, suffering, disfigurement and lost wages caused by the injury. This Act was traditionally liberally construed in the favor of injured seamen. The recent case of Skye v. Maersk Line, unfortunately, has restricted the scope of the Jones Act. In that case, a chief mate developed left ventricular hypertrophy (a thickening of the heart wall of the left ventricle) as a direct result of excessive work hours and an erratic sleep schedule caused by the demands of his employer. The seafarer brought a lawsuit in Miami Federal Court arguing his employer caused his heart disease by negligently overworking him to the point of fatigue. The shipping company filed a motion requesting the court dismiss the claim as a matter of law arguing that no such relief in provided by the Jones Act. The trial court denied the motion and a trial was conducted. The jury found the shipping company 25% liable and awarded $2,362,299.00 to the injured seaman. The court reduced the award to $590,574.75 to account for the seaman's 75% comparative negligence. The employer appealed the decision.
The Eleventh Circuit analyzing the Jones Act and Supreme Court precedent discussing the Federal Employers Liability Act (a companion statute to the Jones Act) concluded seamen are only protected against the negligent conduct of their employers that imminently threatens them with physical impact. Based upon this legal framework, the Eleventh Circuit found injuries caused by work-related stress are not actionable under the Jones Act because an arduous work schedule and irregular sleep schedule are not "physical perils."
The final paragraph of the Eleventh Circuit's legal analysis sheds light on the outcome of the case. The court feared that by allowing such claims would "flood [the courts with] trivial suits, the possibility of fraudulent claims... and the specter of unlimited and unpredictable liability." This case is another example of the contraction of the Eleventh Circuit's treatment of seamen's claim. Such is a shame as courts historically viewed it was their duty to vigilantly protect seamen.
Most Florida boat accident victims do not know there is a law on the books which allows boat owners to sue them in Federal court! The goal of such lawsuits is to obtain a ruling that either exonerates the boat owner from wrong doing or limit the amount the injured in the boating accident could receive in compensation. The Shipowners' Limitation of Liability Act passed by Congress in 1851 allows just that. Most people are also unaware this federal law also allows the boat owner to pick the court where the lawsuit must take place. Let's assume you were injured in a boating accident and your lawyer files the case in the local state court. Under the Act, the boat owner's lawyer can file a lawsuit in Federal court which could be hundreds of miles from where you live. The federal judge will then order the state court to relinquish jurisdiction requiring you to re-file your case in the federal court where the boat owner selected.
The original purpose of the case was to promote American shipbuilding in a time where insurance was not common. The idea behind the law was Americans would enter the shipping business if there existed an incentive in place to limit their liability to the ship value should an accident occur. Times have changed and most boat owners have liability insurance. However, the law is still on the books. There is, however, good news for Florida boat accident injury victims. The Eleventh Federal Circuit Court has taken a very hostile view of this act calling it "hopelessly anachronistic". Through the years, the Eleventh Circuit issued multiple legal options which have eroded the competitive edge given boat owners by the Act. What has become known as the "Signal Claimant Exception" is one such instance.
The Signal Claimant Exception allows a Florida boat injury victim to proceed in state court despite the boat owner's federal action. In order to accomplish this, the injury victim must agree in writing to not collect on the state court judgment until the federal court decides the issue of whether the boat owner is entitled to be exonerated from wrong doing or allowed to limit the state court judgment to the value of the boat. Once this agreement is filed, the federal trial judge can stay the federal lawsuit and allowed the case to proceed in the local state court. After the state court trial, the federal case will be reopened wherein the federal judge can decide whether or not the owner should be exonerated from wrong doing or the state court jury verdict reduced to the value of the boat.
Typically the Signal Claimant Exception scenario occurs when the Florida boat injury victim's lawyer files the state court lawsuit before the boat owner files the federal action. An Eleventh Circuit case decided this month addressed a situation where the boat owner filed the lawsuit first. That case involved a woman who was injured in a boat accident in Palm Beach County, Florida. The boat owner filed the federal action before the injured woman filed her state court lawsuit. The boat owner argued that since it "won the race to the courthouse" and filed first, it should get to decide where the trial should occur. The Eleventh Circuit rejected this argument. The published legal decision discusses at length the tension between the right of an injured person to select the location of where the case is to be tried and the right of a boat owner to have a federal judge decide issues of exoneration and/or limitation of liability. Relying on its long history of refusing to expand the rights of boat owners afforded under the Act, the Eleventh Circuit found the Signal Claimant Exception applies to situations where the boat owner files federal lawsuit was filed first.
The Florida Board Certified Maritime Lawyers of Brais, Brais & Rusak are keenly aware of the Limitation of Liability Act's nuisances. The law firm has handled several such cases involved Florida boat injury victims and have wrote comprehensive legal papers on the Limitation of Liability Act which were presented at maritime law symposiums. If you are a victim of a Florida boating accident and would like to learn more about your rights, fell free to contact us.
Sad news is coming from Pinellas County, Florida. The law enforcement division of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported Stephen Chadwick of Tarpon Springs died early Monday when the 10 foot aluminum jon boat sank in the Gulf of Mexico. Investigators said Chadwick and Joseph Citro of Indianapolis were heading to meet friends at the nearby spoil islands on Sunday afternoon when their boat sank less than an hour into the trip.
The men initially held on to the boat's hull but eventually decided to swim to shore. Chadwick reportedly lost consciousness as the men approached shore. Citro performed CPR while a nearby Palm Harbor resident called 911. Both men were taken to the hospital where Chadwick later died. Citro was treated and released.
Below is a local television news report about the boat accident.
The U.S. Coast Guard was called to medevac a passenger suffering from a heart attack aboard the Norwegian Breakaway. The cruise ship's captain radioed for medical assistance around 4 a.m. on the morning of November 16th. A MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew was dispatched from Elizabeth City, North Carolina and met the ailing 81-year-old passenger approximately 55 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras. The passenger was hoisted onto the rescue copter and taken to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital where it is reported he is in stable condition.
The Norwegian Breakaway sails weekly from New York City to Port Canaveral, Florida and Caribbean vacation destinations. Last month the Maritime Law Blog reported on a Norwegian Breakaway passenger fractured his neck and a medical alert was called for another passenger while the cruise ship was docket at Port Canaveral, Florida.
A 45-foot boat hired by a group of friends began to take on water then capsize in Biscayne Bay just off the Miami Seaquarium Sunday afternoon. Reports reveal the group was coming back from a party spot when the boat started sink. According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission spokesman Jorge Pino the boat may have been an illegal charter that transported people to and from a sandbar for $20 per person. There may not have been a Coast Guard licensed captain either. The sinking boat was observed by other boaters who rendered assistance helping to tow the vessel to the beach.
This mishap is yet another in a long string of boating accidents surrounding Columbus Day Weekend in Biscayne Bay. BBR has written extensively on boat accident liability surrounding the alcohol fueled Columbus Day festivities in Miami. See our article entitled Liabilities for Boating Under the Influence While Partying in Biscayne Bay on Columbus Day Weekend to learn more.