Unfortunately, another boating accident occurred in Florida over the weekend. Coincidentally, it happened in Biscayne Bay, the same location of a fatal boating accident handled by our firm that resulted from the collision of two high speed boats.
In the accident that occurred this weekend, a forty-foot outboard powered boat was being pushed off of a popular sandbar with the operator of the boat assisting by placing the boat in gear. Although the incident is still being investigated, it has been reported that one of the people helping to push the boat off the sandbar was struck by one of the boat’s propellers causing devastating wounds. Despite being rushed by helicopter to the nearest emergency room, the young man could not be saved.
The sandbar at issue is a popular spot for boaters to congregate. At times, it can have a rowdy atmosphere with drinking. It is currently unknown whether the operator of the boat was under the influence of alcohol, or any drugs, at the time of the incident. Blood alcohol testing was not performed as the Florida Wildlife Commission did not observe physical signs of intoxication that would provide probable cause to perform such testing. As a result, even if the operator of the boat was under the influence, a criminal prosecution is extremely unlikely.
This situation highlights one of the differences between civil claims for personal injury and criminal prosecution. Even if the state attorney does not charge the operator of the boat, a civil attorney will have the ability to gather evidence and bring a claim for wrongful death, including seeking punitive damages, against the operator of the boat if there are witnesses who observed the operator of the boat drinking alcohol prior to this incident. Even without intoxication, the operator of the vessel was probably negligent in running the engine while someone was near the area of the propellers. As such, the lack of a criminal prosecution does not stand in the way of civil justice.
Every year, there are fatal boating accidents in Florida. In April of 2009, Jacksonville was the scene of the worst boating accidents in recent Florida history when five persons died and others were injured when a boat carrying fourteen persons crashed into a dock on the Intracoastal Waterway in St. Johns County, Florida. While the operator of the boat was not intoxicated she did have alcohol in her system. Other persons in the boat with more boating experience let her drive because they were intoxicated.
Personal injury or wrong death claims resulting from boating accidents have a special set of laws that apply. These laws are referred to as “admiralty” or “maritime” claims and follow a separate set of rules, with a separate statute of limitations and potential limits of liability. As a result, any persons injured or seeking recovery for the wrongful death of a family member should hire an attorney experienced in maritime and admiralty claims.