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Articles Posted in Florida Boat Accident Law

Boat-Collision-Accident-300x177An interesting decision involving the Shipowner’s Limitation of Liability Act was recently handed down in a ferryboat / speed boat collision case.  The accident occurred on February 16, 2013.  The ferryboat, carrying approximately five hundred passengers, was ten minutes into its thirty-minute voyage when it collided with the speed boat.  One man aboard the speed boat died from injuries and another was hospitalized.  No one aboard the ferryboat was hurt.   The captains of both the ferryboat and privately owned speed boat (pictured to the right) claim they did not see each other until it was too late to take corrective action to avoid the collision.  Evidence established that the ferryboat captain was using his mobile phone immediately prior to the accident.  The decedent’s estate and the injured victim claim that the ferryboat captain was distracted by using his phone and was therefore negligent in causing the fatal collision.

A favor tactic of defendants (and their insurance company appointed attorneys) in serious boating accidents is to file what is known as a petition for exoneration from or limitation of liability.  Under a century and a half old federal law, a defendant shipowner is allowed to file a lawsuit asking a federal judge to determine liability and to even limit an injured plaintiff’s recovery to the post lost value of the vessel.  This means that the damages available for plaintiff who is seriously injured could be capped at the value of a severally damaged vessel.  This federal law has been widely criticized by the courts some going as far as stating its, “a holdover from the days when encouraging commerce by sea was considered more important than providing full redress to victims of maritime accidents.”  Though generally not liked by the courts, the Limitation Act is still the law of the land and will be applied under the right circumstances.

In order to limit one’s liability under the federal law, the shipowner must provide that any negligence causing the accident was not within its “privity or knowledge.”  In order words, the shipowner was unaware and could not become aware of the negligent act where a reasonable investigation would have led to the request knowledge.  In this case, the owner of the ferryboat filed a limitation case in federal court arguing that it should be able to limit its liability to the value of the ferryboat at it was unaware the captain’s negligence of using his mobile phone.  The federal court rejected the ferryboat owner’s argument.  It found that there was no company policy that its captain could not use their phones when operating the ferryboats and that it knew that captains carried personal mobile phones while operated the ferries and permitted their use.  Based upon these factual finding, the court denied the ferryboat owner’s petition to limit liability to the vessel’s post loss value.

Christmas-Miami-Boat-Accident-300x171A boating accident occurred in Miami’s Biscayne Bay between Northeast 87th Street and Northeast Bayshore Drive Christmas night.  Witnesses state that a boat carrying fourteen people flipped over after hitting a wave while trying to enter a canal at the western edge of the bay.  An area resident who witnessed the incident stated that everyone was at the front of the boat.  Other witnesses stated that they did not see any of the boater wearing life jackets.  Another resident, Ron Stamey, attempted to help the group from his kayak.  He was able to get four of the fourteen out of the water.  Ultimately, Miami Fire Rescue responded to the scene.  Unfortunately, a woman was trapped under the boat.  By the time the woman was freed, she did not have a pulse and was not breathing.  The victim, identified as 80-year-old Lidia Tapanes, was transported to North Shore Medical Center.  Her condition is currently unknown.



sEARCH-FOR-MISSING-BODY-300x169Monday afternoon, around 3:30 p.m., a man disappeared while jet skiing in the waters of Blue Lagoon in Miami, Florida in the area off the Dolphin expressway east of 57th avenue. It is unknown how the accident occurred but 32-year-old Manuel Aponte was heading back to shore with other riders when his jet ski came to a sudden stop and he flew head first into the water and vanished.  According to witnesses, it was as if he had hit something with his jet ski because the jet ski stopped short and Mr. Aponte flew over it landing head first into the water. Fellow jet ski riders attempted to find Mr. Aponte without success.  Monday evening and Tuesday Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission continued the search for Mr. Aponte’s body until it was recovered at 7:00 a.m. this morning.  The investigation into how the accident occurred is ongoing and will likely continue for weeks.

Mr. Aponte was a husband and father of a 1-year-old boy. He was born in Cuba and had immigrated to the United States 9 years ago.  We extend our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.

Alma_Lee_Loy_Bridge-300x225Jimmy Graves, a 15-year-old boy who attended Vero Beach High School, died after being thrown off his friend’s boat into the Indian River Lagoon.  The incident is being investigated by Florida’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission who stated the operator, a 14-year-old boy, have a boating license.

The boating accident occurred around 11 a.m. on December 4th.  It is being reported that Graves was thrown into the river when the boat hit a wave while towing another person on either a wake board or skis.  He was not wearing a personal flotation device and did not come to the surface.  Authorities are investigating whether Graves hit the propeller of the outboard motor when he fell into the water.  Shortly after the incident, a search began and tragically concluded hours later when Graves’ body was found by a St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office dive team near the Alma Lee Loy Bridge.  A candlelight vigil was held on December 5th at Memorial Island Park in Riverside Park.

Boat Crash Black Creek Florida.jpgA woman was seriously injured when the Boston Whaler boat she was a passenger in hit an overhanging tree branch at approximately 30 mph while traveling around a bend in Black Creek, a 13-mile-long tributary of the St. Johns River in Clay County, Florida. Three other passengers of the boat also sustained injuries, one of them requiring hospitalization. The two passengers that were hospitalized were in the back of the boat at the time of the crash. According to the operator of the boat, Charles Spiegel, upon coming around the bend he encountered an overhanging tree branch and he “cut it hard and broadsided the tree branch.” Both passengers transported to the hospital were alert when they were being taken to Orange Park Medical Center. However, they were reportedly in a lot of pain. The Clay County Sheriff’s Department is assisting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in investigating this accident.

Black Creek is a winding creek known by locals as a difficult area to navigate with many sharp turns. In 2011, Black Creek was the site of a fatal boat crash that resulted in the death of two teenagers. Reportedly, the operator of the boat left control of the boat to pump the fuel bulb when the boat veered into the north bank and crashed into a tree three feet off the water. The operator of the boat and father of one of the deceased passengers was charged with reckless boating.


Jose-Fernandez-boat-accident.jpgIt has been a month since Florida Marlins’ pitcher Jose Fernandez and his friends Eduardo Rivero and Emilio Macias lost their lives in a tragic boating accident in Miami Beach. Shortly after the tragedy, law enforcement reported the boat involved in the crash with the north jetty of Government Cut did not belong to Fernandez. It was later confirmed that Fernandez did, in fact, own the vessel. It has been also confirmed that hours before the accident, Fernandez was drinking at American Social, a Miami area restaurant and bar. A toxicology report recently released indicates that Fernandez had a blood alcohol level of 0.147 which is nearly twice Florida’s legal boating limit of 0.08. The same toxicology report concluded that he also cocaine in his system. Though Fernandez was legally intoxicated, it is now being suggested that he was not operating the boat at the time of the accident. This theory is based upon a witness telling law enforcement that he was on the phone with Fernandez near the time the boat struck the jetty.

Who is Responsible

Though this the accident occurred on a private boat mere yards from shore, a civil case concerning who is labile will be governed by maritime law. Maritime law is an amalgamation of decisional law dating back to ancient Greece supplemented, at times, by non-conflicting state law. From the facts known to date, there are four potential sources of liability: the boat owner, the boat operator, the alcohol server and the government.
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Four Injured in Boating Accident in Indian River Lagoon.jpgFour people were hospitalized late Thursday night after the boat they were traveling in struck a sand bar at channel marker 85 in the Indian River Lagoon around 11:20 p.m. One person was treated at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, Florida. The other three individuals were treated at Sebastian river Medical Center in Sebastian, Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is still investigating the cause of the crash. The identities and condition of the people involved have not been released. We will continue to monitor and update this story as more information is known.

Just last month, Florida Marlins superstar pitcher Jose Fernandez and two of his friends, Eddy Rivero and Emilio Macias died when the boat owned by Fernandez, crashed into a jetty sometime before 3:00 a.m. These accidents highlight the danger of boating after dark. Most boats are not equipped with headlights thus increasing the likelihood of crashing with a fixed object. Additionally, most channel markers and other navigational aids have no lighting attached. Boaters intending to travel at night are recommended to have their own lights, such as handheld marine-grade spotlights.

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Man Killed in Jet Ski Crash Captiva Island.jpgA 24-year-old man identified as Hector Santiago was killed on Monday night when the Jet Ski he was riding crashed into a piling, ripping off the handlebars and throwing him into the water. Rescue personnel searched for the man for 30 minutes before he was located. Unfortunately, by then, efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. The crash occurred near South Seas Island Resort; Florida Fish and Wildlife officers could not confirm whether Mr. Santiago and his girlfriend, whom he was vacationing with, were guests at the resort but did confirm that the Jet Ski was rented.

No information is yet known on where the man rented the Jet Ski from or at what time but pursuant to Florida law, a person may not operate a personal watercraft at any time between the hours from one-half hour after sunset to one-hour before sunrise. Based on the time the accident took place, it appears that the Jet Ski was rented in violation of Florida law.

Investigation into this accident is ongoing and we will continue to update this story as we learn more information. We extend our sympathies to Mr. Santiago’s family and loved ones.

A diver was severally injured when a charter fishing boat ran him over. The incident occurred off the White Street Fishing Pier in Key West last Saturday, October 8th. Witnesses stated that the injured diver, along with another man, were displaying the legally mandated divers-down flags when the charter boat struck him at a high rate of speed. It appears that a propeller from the boat nearly severed diver’s left foot. The captain of the fishing boat retrieved the injured diver from the water and reported the incident to law enforcement. The captain was directed to return to shore where Key West Fire Rescue responded. The injured diver was taken to an area hospital. There have been no reports on the victim’s condition at the time of this post.

Monroe County Sheriff’s Office investigate such incidents. Florida law requires all divers without boats display a red divers-down symbol with a horizontal white strip that is a minimum of 12 inches by 12 inches which could take the form of a flag of buoy.

Hurricane Matthew.jpgHurricane Matthew is causing multiple cruise ships including the Carnival Sensation, Carnival Splendor and Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas to alter their itineraries as the storm travels Cuba and the Bahamas. Several cruise ships will avoid travel to the Bahamas and will instead head to Key West, Florida and Cozumel, Mexico.

According to reports, the storm made landfall in Haiti early this morning carrying winds of 145 mph causing devastating damage to the island. Hurricane Matthew is expected to pass over eastern Cuba and portions of the Bahamas later today then heading toward the US, dropping down to a category 3 with 120 mph winds.

The United States Coast Guard Captain for South Florida Ports has set port condition whiskey for Port Miami, Miami River Port Everglades, Port of Palm Beach, Port of Ft. Pierce and all other South Florida terminals and facilities due to the storm’s expected track near southwest Florida.