Fort Lauderdale, FL asked in Admiralty / Maritime for Florida

Q: Can someone please help me...who is liable in a boating accident, the person operating the vessel, the owner, or both?

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3 Lawyer Answers
PREMIUM
Answered
  • Maritime Lawyer
  • Las Vegas, NV

A: If the accident occurred in the ocean or an interstate navigable waterway federal admirality applies. If the accident happened on a body of water entirely within the state of Florida, state law applies. As a general rule the owner is not liable unless the owner was in some way negligent, except that under federal admiralty law the injured party may petition the court to have U.S. marshals seize the boat for possible sale to compensate the injured party. However, the issue of when the owner is liable is so complicated and fact dependent that you really need an in depth consultation with a lawyer in your state. By the way, Florida has the biggest concentration of admiralty lawyers of any state. The operator will be liable if negligent.

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PREMIUM
Answered
  • Maritime Lawyer
  • Las Vegas, NV

A: If the accident occurred in the ocean or an interstate navigable waterway federal admirality applies. If the accident happened on a body of water entirely within the state of Florida, state law applies. As a general rule the owner is not liable unless the owner was in some way negligent, except that under federal admiralty law the injured party may petition the court to have U.S. marshals seize the boat for possible sale to compensate the injured party. However, the issue of when the owner is liable is so complicated and fact dependent that you really need an in depth consultation with a lawyer in your state. By the way, Florida has the biggest concentration of admiralty lawyers of any state. The operator will be liable if negligent.

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Answered
  • Maritime Lawyer
  • Miami, FL
  • Licensed in Florida

A: A) When a boating accident occurs, several people can be held liable for the incident, depending on what exactly caused the accident to occur in the first place, who was operating the vessel and where exactly the accident took place. If the accident occurred on navigable waters, meaning waters that are used for commerce or transportation purposes, then federal admiralty and maritime law could apply. If the accident occurred on non-navigable waters (a small lake, pond, etc.) then state laws apply. Federal maritime laws carry much more stringent penalties and can hold more people liable for one accident, whereas state laws often fail to properly prosecute individuals or companies and can resulting potentially negligent parties to escape responsibility.

Aside from where the accident occurred, the next factor that must be established is the cause of the boating accident. If general negligence was to blame, such as speeding, boater inexperience, boating under the influence, etc., then the person who was actually operating the boat will hold primary responsibility for the incident but the owner may also still be held responsible depending on the particular facts involved. If the person operating the vessel was an employee of a company, such as a ferry boat operator, then the operator and the owner of the vessel may both be held liable for the incident, the owner being faulted for failure to properly educate their employees on maritime safety laws, for employing negligent operators or for allowing someone to operate their watercraft knowing they were not suitable pilots.

When mechanical failure is to blame, if there was an issue with the vessel that was not foretold to the operator or undetectable to him, then the owner and the manufacturer are usually the ones that liability would fall upon.

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