Proving liability after a boating accident is critical when seeking just compensation for your losses. To file a claim, you need to know who (or what company) is responsible—and you need to be able to prove it to the insurance companies.
But, proving liability is not an easy process. While this is true for all types of accidents, it is often especially true for boating accidents. Investigating a boating accident presents some unique challenges, and taking action promptly is often critical for making sure victims can recover the financial compensation they deserve.
Investigating a Boating Accident in Florida
Generally, proving liability after an accident starts with visiting the accident location. In the case of a boating accident, this may be a bridge, dock or sandbar—or it may be a wide expanse of open ocean. As a result, the evidence that can be gathered from the accident scene often depends on the tides, sea state, weather conditions and other environmental factors.
Fortunately, it will usually be possible to gather evidence from a variety of other sources as well. For example, when investigating boat accidents, our lawyers often take steps including (but not limited to):
- Hiring an inspector to examine each vessel involved in the accident
- Talking to passengers, other boaters and any witnesses on land
- Reviewing photos and videos available from witnesses or posted on social media
- Reviewing accident reports from the U.S. Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)
- Reviewing AIS data, tide charts, weather reports and other publicly available information
Again, these are just examples of the steps our lawyers may take when investigating a boating accident in Florida. Depending on the circumstances, we may take a variety of other steps as well. We determine what investigative steps are necessary based on the unique circumstances of each individual case.
Collecting Additional Evidence of Liability
In addition to conducting an investigation, it will often be possible to gather additional evidence of liability through subpoenas and other legal means. This additional evidence can be critical for proving liability in many cases. Some examples of the additional forms evidence our lawyers may be able to obtain in order to prove liability include:
- Boat captains and passengers’ receipts from supermarkets or liquor stores (to show that alcohol played a role in the accident)
- Boat captains’ cell phone records (to show that a captain was distracted at the helm)
- Boat maintenance records (to show that a boat had not been properly maintained or that negligent maintenance work contributed to causing the accident)
- “Black box” data from chart plotters and other onboard computer systems (to show a boat’s speed and direction of travel at the time of the accident)
- Employment, charter or rental records (to show that a boat owner is liable for the captain’s negligence)
These, too, are just examples. Even when a boating accident happens miles from shore, there will usually be multiple forms of evidence available to prove liability. The key is to act quickly and continue to assess (and reassess) potential claims as more evidence is uncovered.
Identifying the Liable Party (or Parties)
After gathering the evidence that is available, the next step is to identify the liable party (or parties). There are usually several possibilities, and determining which company (or companies) to sue requires a clear understanding of how Florida law applies to the circumstances at hand. Depending on the circumstances, some examples of the parties that may be liable for a boating accident in Florida include:
Boat captains will be liable for accidents in many cases. Under Florida law, boat captains have a duty to operate their vessels safely at all times. Even so, inexperience, recklessness, impaired boating, distracted boating and other forms of negligence are all common factors in Florida boating accidents.
In many cases, boat owners can be held liable for accidents even when they aren’t at the helm. For example, boat owners can be held liable for others’ negligence when they either employ the individual who causes an accident or negligently entrust their boat to an inexperienced, unsafe or unqualified captain or crew. As a result, boat owners may be liable in cases involving accidents caused by:
- Crew members
- Friends and family members
- Boat club members
- Bareboat charter renters
Passengers can be liable for boating accidents in some cases. One of the most common scenarios involves a drunk passenger interfering with a captain’s safe operation of the vessel. But, there are several other possible scenarios as well.
Boat or Engine Manufacturer
Sometimes, boating accidents result not from negligence on deck, but instead from issues with the boat itself. If a defective boat or engine is to blame, then the manufacturer could be fully liable for all victims’ injuries under Florida law.
Marine Maintenance Service Provider
Negligent maintenance can lead to dangerous situations on the water as well. If a boat or engine is unsafe due to negligent maintenance work, then the company that performed the work could be liable instead of the manufacturer.
Proving Liability to the Insurance Companies
Once it is clear which party (or parties) caused a boating accident, the final step involves proving liability to the insurance companies. While the insurance companies will typically conduct their own investigations, they will do so with their best interests in mind. As a result, it is common for insurance companies to deny liability unless and until they are left with no choice but to acknowledge the true facts at hand. An experienced lawyer can help here as well; and, to maximize your chances of a full financial recovery, it is best to begin working with a lawyer as soon after your boating accident as possible.
Schedule a Free Florida Boating Accident Consultation at Searcy Denney
If you need to file an insurance claim after a boating accident in Florida, we encourage you to contact us promptly for more information. Give us a call at 800-780-8607 or send us your information online to schedule a free consultation today.