We have been following the tragic story of Dalton Joseph Shirley who lost his life when a center console boat he was riding on crashed into a concrete dock in the Intracoastal Waterway behind a house located on Northeast 38th Street, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We learned from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that two others aboard the boat, Justina Coronez and Austin Lail were also seriously injured.
Though the accident occurred in the highly populated intarcostal waterway within the city limits of Ft. Lauderdale, federal maritime law governs the actions of the boat operator and dock owner which lead to this most unfortunate event. Often incorrectly called a collision, when a moving boat strikes a stationary object on the water it is called an “allision”. Under maritime law, the moving object, here the center console boat, is presumed at fault under what is called the “Rule of the Oregon”. This presumption may be rebutted in certain situations.
After a boat accident such like this, there are many unanswered questions. Was there something wrong with the boat, was the operator impaired, was the dock properly lit, did another boat contribute to the accident? One thing is for sure, the insurance companies for the boat operator and dock owner will hire seasoned maritime investigators to interview witnesses and gather documents. Often times, the investigators lead the witnesses into making statements helpful to their client should a lawsuit be filed. The insurance companies will also hire experienced maritime attorneys to defend the boat operator and dock owner. These attorneys are very skilled in maritime law and will use the law to their clients’ advantage. One possibility is that a Petition for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability may be filed asking a federal court to exonerate the boat owner or limit his liability to the post-accident value of the vessel. This is all orchestrated to lessen the potential recovery for the victims. The insurance companies’ best efforts, however, may be overcome by a skilled lawyer representing the victims.