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Personal Watercraft Rental Release and Waiver Found Void Under Florida Public Policy

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Background

In a very tragic case, the Florida maritime lawyers of Brais Brais Rusak represent a woman who sustained life altering brain and physical injuries from a personal watercraft accident which occurred in the Florida Keys. Our client and boyfriend, who were guests at Hawk’s Cay Resort, decided to participate in a sightseeing personal watercraft tour guided by Sundance Watersports who maintains a watersports concession on Hawk’s Cay property. The couple paid for the tour and were given a Release and Waver to sign. The tour guide walked the couple down to an equipment shed and floating dock where the life jackets and personal watercrafts were stored. At the equipment shed, the tour guide gave the couple a Renter Orientation Checklist to initial and sign. It was revealed in deposition testimony that the tour guide did not go over the information contained in the checklist. Furthermore, it was testified the tour guide did nothing more than to provide instruction on how to turn on and off the personal watercraft. In fact, from the metadata of the photographs taken, it was shown that one minute and forty seconds at most was spent on instruction.

Lawsuit and Motion for Summary Judgment

Our firm filed a negligence lawsuit against Sundance Watersports and Hawk’s Cay on behalf of our injured client. Sunset Watersports sought to dismiss the lawsuit arguing the Release and Waiver exculpated the watercraft tour operator from its negligence and precluded our client from bringing a negligence claim. Our attorney’s argued that the Release and Waver is unenforceable because it is void under public policy. Both Florida and maritime law render a pre-rental release and waiver unenforceable as to claims based upon the failure to comply with safety statutes. The policy is clear, a person or company cannot contract away the obligation to follow safety laws.

Fla. Stat. §327.54(1)(e), Fla. Stat. § 327.54(4)(b) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Rule 68D-36.107(3) require a personal water craft livery to provide certain pre-rental instruction which includes, among other topics, “safe speed, “navigational rules”, “propulsion, steering, and stopping characteristics of jet-pump vessels”, “local characteristics of the waterway where the vessel will be operated” and “awareness of changes in weather or water conditions and proper responses to those changes” Rule 68D-36.107(3) also requires the livery to provide an “on-the-water demonstration and check ride to verify the prospective operator’s ability to safely operate the personal watercraft to be leased, hired or rented.”

Florida Watercraft Liability Release Found Void.jpgWe argued that based upon the evidence of the case, Sundance Watersports did not comply with the applicable safety statutes and ordinance before renting the personal watercraft to our client. We also argued that such a failure to comply with the safety law led to the crash and ultimate injuries.

Outcome

After a lengthy hearing the Court accepted our argument, denied Sundance Watersport’s motion and allowed our client’s negligence claim to proceed.

Our lawyers have handled multiple personal watercraft injury cases and have been successful in obtaining recoveries even though our clients signed pre-injury release and waivers. It is important to note, however, that each case is different. If you were injured during a personal watercraft rental and would like to know more about your legal options, feel free to contact our Florida Maritime Board Certified attorneys.