Liabilities for Boating Under the Influence While Partying in Biscayne Bay on Columbus Day Weekend
There is a well known South Florida regatta that takes place each year on Columbus Day Weekend in Biscayne Bay off Miami, Florida. Many “spectators” do not come so much to watch the race but, to party. In fact, the party that takes place along side the regatta (but is in no way sponsored or affiliated with the regatta) is often described as a “floating Mardi Gras”. Drinking and boating, however, don’t mix; and, there are many accidents including deaths surrounding the partying that co-insides with the regatta in years past. The below explains Florida’s Boating Under the Influence Statute as well as the criminal and civil ramifications of drinking and boating.
Boating under the influence is taken seriously in Florida. A blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood is considered boating under the influence. That is roughly 3-4 drinks per hour for the average male adult. Penalties for boating under the influence are:
a. Not less than $250 or more than $500 for a first conviction.
b. Not less than $500 or more than $1,000 for a second conviction; and
a. Not more than 6 months for a first conviction.
b. Not more than 9 months for a second conviction.
Should boating under the influence cause a fatality, the operator will be subjected to Florida’s manslaughter laws. Recently, a Destin man was convicted to just over 40 years in prison for boating under the influence which led to the death of 3 people. In that case, an 18-foot Bayliner collided with a 21-foot Sea Hunter near Marler Park in the Choctawhatchee Bay. Though the operator of the Sea Hunter survived, the 3 guests aboard were killed in the accident. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Report indicated several empty beer bottles and an empty bottle of vodka were found in the Bayliner and that the operator’s blood-alcohol level was 0.19 (over twice the legal limit). It also should be noted that the operator of the Sea Hunter’s blood-alcohol level was 0.7 (just under the legal limit); and, the report concluded, “both operators judgment was impaired to some extent and contributed to the collision.”
Besides criminal ramifications, there are civil penalties for injuring or killing someone while operating a boat under the influence. Since the Florida statute governing boating under the influence is designed for safety, an operator will be found liable for the accident in a civil court unless it is proven the drunkenness did not cause the accident and could never have caused the accident. This is extremely hard to prove; and, a person convicted of boating under the influence will likely be found liable for the accident in a civil court.
A person injured due to boat operator’s violation of Florida’s Boating Under the Influence statute is entitled to fair and adequate compensation for damages experienced in the past and to be likely experienced in the future. These damages include:
- Compensation for bodily injury resulting in pain and suffering, disability or physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, inconvenience, the loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life;
- The expense of hospitalization, medical and nursing care and treatment; and,
- Any earnings for work time lost.
Survivors and the estate of a person who died due to boat operator’s violation of Florida’s Boating Under the Influence statute are also entitled to damages. Given the partying surrounding the regatta occurs within one marine league from shore, maritime law dictates Florida’s wrongful death damages will apply.
Under Florida’s wrongful death statute survivors may recover the following:
- The value of lost support and services from the date of the decedent’s injury to the date of death as well as future loss of support and services from the date of death. In evaluating loss of support and services, the survivor’s relationship to the decedent, the amount of the decedent’s probable net income, and the replacement value of the decedent’s services to the survivor may be considered. In computing the duration of future losses, the joint life expectancies of the survivor and the decedent and the period of minority, in the case of healthy minor children, may be considered.
- The surviving spouse may also recover for loss of companionship and protection and for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury.
- Minor children of the decedent, and all children of the decedent if there is no surviving spouse, may also recover for lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance and for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury.
- Each parent of a deceased minor child (under 25 years of age) may also recover mental pain and suffering from the date of injury. Each parent of an adult child (25 years of age and older) may also recover for mental pain and suffering if there are no other survivors.
- Medical or funeral expenses due to the decedent’s injury or death may be recovered by a survivor who has paid them.
The estate of the decedent may recover the following:
- Loss of earnings of the deceased from the date of injury to the date of death;
- Loss of the prospective net accumulations of an estate which might reasonably have been expected but for the wrongful death may also be recovered if the decedent’s survivors include a surviving spouse or lineal descendants; and,
- Medical or funeral expenses due to the decedent’s injury or death that were charged against the estate or that were paid by or on behalf of decedent, excluding amounts paid by, and awarded to, a survivor.