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Boating and Water Craft Accidents in Florida

As of 2003 there were 12,794,616 registered boats and personal watercraft machines in the United States. According to Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida occupies over one million of these registered boats, beating even California as the nation’s boating capitol. In addition to this, approximately 450,000 boats registered in other states use Florida waterways in any given year.

With miles of coastline and waterways, Florida is also a natural docking point for commercial shipping boats, commercial fishing boats, cruise ships and recreational watercraft. Florida’s destination as one of the leading world vacation spots means that water sports such as water skiing, swimming, boating, wake boarding, jet skiing and fishing are often sought out by those who live and visit here. Although these types of activities are enjoyable, they can become dangerous when operated by inexperienced or intoxicated individuals.

Boating Accident Statistics

According to the United States Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety,each year there are more than 8,500 boating accidents resulting in more than 4,500 serious injuries and 850 deaths in the United States. In 2003 there were 5,438 accidents, 3,888 injuries, and 703 fatalities as a result of boating and personal watercraft use. As a result of the 5,438 accidents, there was a total of $40,422,374 in property damage. Because of Florida’s expansive coastline, tropical climate and unbelievable diving and fishing opportunities, it has become one of the most popular boating areas in the world. Unfortunately, due to the high traffic and the number of inexperienced boat operators visiting Florida, it is also one of the most dangerous boating areas in the world and unfortunately the national leader in serious boating accidents.

According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, there were 671 boating accidents in Florida in 2006 with 420 people being injured and 69 fatalities. Property damage from the 671 boating accidents was valued at over $8.6 million. In 2009 Florida led the nation in the total number of boating accidents with 620 with resulting property damage exceeding $10 million.

Types of Water Craft Accidents

Boat accidents

Typical boating accidents can involve collisions with other boats, boat capsizing from large wakes, slip and falls on cruise ships, collisions with fixed objects, running ashore or faulty design or manufacturing of boats or boat parts.

Personal water craft liability

Accidents involving personal water craft machines can result from collisions with other machines, collisions with boats, flipping the device and running into a stationary object. Often, these types of accidents are caused from such factors as negligent operation, using excessive speed, jumping waves or boat wakes, improper training of minors who are renting Jet skis and improper utilization of safety devices.

Swimmers and divers

Accidents can also involve swimmers, snorkelers or divers being struck by boats or personal watercraft. These incidents can occur if the boat operator fails to keep a proper lookout, drives too close to diving buoys or operates their boat or personal watercraft in designated swimming areas.

According to the US Coast Guard, the primary boat or watercraft accident types that result in death or injury are:

  • collisions with other boats or fixed objects
  • passengers falling overboard
  • water ski mishaps
  • capsized watercraft

Causes of Boat Accidents

According to the United States Coast Guard, the most reported type of boating accident involved a collision with another vessel. The most common types of boats involved in the reported accidents were open motor boats (representing 42% of boat collisions), personal watercraft (27%) and cabin motor boats (14%). Also, capsizing or falls overboard are the most reported types of fatal accidents according to the US Coast Guard, accounted for over half (57%) of all boating fatalities. Approximately 70% of these fatalities occurred when the victim drowned, and 86% of the victims who drowned were not wearing a personal flotation device or life jacket.

The most common causes of boating accidents are:

  • operator inattention
  • negligent, careless or reckless operation
  • excessive speed
  • alcohol use
  • no proper lookout
  • operator inexperience
  • weather
  • improper equipment
  • equipment failure
  • failure to have proper safety equipment on board
  • failure to obey posted laws
  • improper lighting

Who is Responsible for a Boating Accident?

On the water the captain of each and every vessel is responsible for his or her actions and the effect of his or her actions has on other boaters. This responsibility is defined throughout various rules and laws that the captain must follow, including the duty to use reasonable care when operating a water craft vessel.

In Florida specifically, each boater is responsible for the effect his or her wake has on other boats and boaters.

Some Common Florida Boating Laws

  1. It is unlawful to operate a vessel in a reckless manner. A person is guilty of reckless operation of a vessel who operates any vessel, or manipulates any water skis, aquaplane, or similar device, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property at a speed or in a manner as to endanger, or likely to endanger, life or limb, or damage the property of, or injure any person. Reckless operation of a vessel includes, but is not limited to, a violation of s. 327.331(6). Any person who violates a provision of this subsection commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
  2. Any person operating a vessel upon the waters of this state shall operate the vessel in a reasonable and prudent manner, having regard for other waterborne traffic, posted speed and wake restrictions, and all other attendant circumstances so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person. The failure to operate a vessel in a manner described in this subsection constitutes careless operation. However, vessel wake and shoreline wash resulting from the reasonable and prudent operation of a vessel shall, absent negligence, not constitute damage or endangerment to property. Any person who violates the provisions of this subsection commits a noncriminal violation as defined in s. 775.08.
  3. Each person operating a vessel upon the waters of this state shall comply with the navigation rules.
    1. A person whose violation of the navigation rules results in a boating accident, but whose violation did not constitute reckless operation of a vessel, is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
    2. A person whose violation of the navigation rules does not result in a boating accident and does not constitute reckless operation of a vessel is guilty of a noncriminal violation as defined in s. 775.08.
    3. Law enforcement vessels may deviate from the navigational rules when such diversion is necessary to the performance of their duties and when such deviation may be safely accomplished.
  4. Unless otherwise provided in this chapter, the ascertainment of fault in vessel operations and boating accidents shall be determined according to the navigation rules.
  5. The owner and operator of every vessel on the waters of this state shall carry, store, maintain, and use safety equipment in accordance with current United States Coast Guard safety equipment requirements as
  6. No person shall operate a vessel less than 26 feet in length on the waters of this state unless every person under 6 years of age on board the vessel is wearing a Type I, Type II, or Type III Coast Guard approved personal flotation device while such vessel is underway. For the purpose of this section, “underway” shall mean at all times except when a vessel is anchored, moored, made fast to the shore, or aground.
  7. No person shall operate a vessel on the waters of this state unless said vessel is equipped with properly serviceable lights and shapes required by the navigation rules.
  8. The use of sirens or flashing, occulting, or revolving lights on any vessel is prohibited, except as expressly provided in the navigation rules or annexes thereto.
  9. Except for sailboats, canoes, kayaks, and inflatable boats, this section applies to all monohull motorboats less than 20 feet in length that are: manufactured or used primarily for noncommercial use; leased, rented, or chartered to another for the latter’s noncommercial use; or engaged in the carrying of six or fewer passengers for hire.
  10. No person shall sell or offer for sale any vessel described in subsection (1) unless said vessel displays the maximum capacity information as prescribed in 33 C.F.R. part 183. This shall not apply to resales, but it is the intent of this section to require dealers and manufacturers to furnish this information upon the original sale.
  11. No person shall operate any vessel described in subsection (1) when said vessel exceeds the maximum weight capacity, maximum persons capacity, or maximum horsepower capacity. If no maximum capacity information is displayed, the capacities shall be calculated as provided in 33 C.F.R. part 183, subparts C and D. This subsection shall not preclude the finding of reckless operation under s. 327.33(1) when a vessel is operated in a grossly overloaded or overpowered condition.

What can an Attorney Do for Victims of Boating Accidents?

A detailed investigation into the causes of a personal water craft accident will naturally look into the operator or rider’s compliance with boating laws and regulations. Certain questions such as was another boater at fault? was anything wrong with the personal water craft itself? need to be addressed to develop a viable theory of liability. If liability is successfully attributed, a lawyer can help a victim of a boating accident to acquire the appropriate compensation for their injuries and losses.

If you or a loved one are injured while operating or riding on a boat or personal watercraft in Florida, you are always welcome to seek legal help from a personal injury lawyer. The Daytona Beach accident attorneys at Rue & Ziffra, have over 30 years combined experience pursuing and obtaining compensation for boating accident victims, including those injured while riding a personal watercraft.

The above entry is NOT LEGAL ADVICE and should not be intended or construed as such. It is intended only as general information. No individual reading it should act upon it. Reading this entry does not create any relationship between Rue & Ziffra and individuals reading it. If you have questions or concerns, please seek professional legal counsel.

Boating and Water Craft Accidents in Florida
Written by: Allan L. Ziffra, Esq.
Author: Webmaster / Number of views (2) / Comments (0)
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Preventing Unnecessary Drowning in Florida’s Pools

With miles of accessible beaches, beautiful sun and long summer months, there isn’t much question as to why Daytona Beach is known as “The World’s Most Famous Beach”. For those individuals not privy to swimming in the ocean, however, these same factors also make Florida the perfect location for enjoying time in the sun in a swimming pool.

With more than a million swimming pools bought by business and home owners alike, Florida is home to more pools than any other state in the U.S. It is not surprising, then, that many children suffer accidental deaths every year in Florida from drowning in a swimming pool.

Pool Drowning Statistics

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, there are approximately 1,900 swimming pool-related drowning deaths in the United States each year. Of this number, over 300 children accidentally drown each year in swimming pools, all under the age of five.

Although drowning accidents do occur in public pools that are supervised by lifeguards, most fatalities occur at residential pools. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission:

  • 53% of drowning fatalities occur In the pool at the victim’s home
  • 19% of drowning fatalities occur in the pool of a family member or close family friend
  • 12% of drowning fatalities occur at undisclosed locations
  • 8% of drowning fatalities occur at community or commercial pools
  • 81% of drowning fatalities occur in in-the-ground pools
  • In over 66% of deaths involving children under the age of 5, the child was last seen inside the house and was most likely to be under the care of one or both parents who were engaged in some type of routine activity
  • Access to the pool in 71% of cases was a door leading from the house to the pool area
  • Unintentional drowning of children in the State of Florida between the ages of one and four is 186% higher than the national average

Florida Swimming Pool Statutes

Below are a few statutes that the Florida legislature passed in response to the high number of child drowning fatalities.

F.S. §515.23 – In order to combat the growing number of drowning deaths for children in the State of Florida, the Florida Legislature passed F.S.§515.23 which states:

The legislature finds that drowning is the leading cause of deaths of young children in this state and is also a significant cause of death from medically frail elderly persons in this state, that constant adult supervision is the key to accomplishing the objective of reducing the number of submersion incidents, and that when lapses in supervision occur, a pool safety feature designed to deny, delay, or detect unsupervised entry to the swimming pool, spa, or hot tub will reduce drowning and near drowning incidents. In addition to the incalculable human cost of these submersion incidents, the health care costs, loss of lifetime productivity, and legal and administrative expenses associated with drowning of young children and medically frail elderly persons in this state each year and the lifetime cost for the care and treatment of young children who have suffered brain disability due to near drowning incidents each year are enormous. Therefore, it is the intent of the legislature that all new residential swimming pools, spas and hot tubs be equipped with at least pool safety feature as specified in this chapter.

F.S. §515.27 – The Florida Legislature went on to pass F.S. §515.27, the Residential Swimming Pool Safety Feature Options; Penalties. This statute states:

  1. In order to pass final inspection and receive a certificate of completion, a residential swimming pool must meet at least one of the following requirements relating to pool safety features:
    • The pool must be isolated from access to a home by an enclosure that meets the pool barrier requirements of s. 515.29;
    • The pool must be equipped with an approved safety pool cover;
    • All doors and windows providing direct access from the home to the pool must be equipped with an exit alarm that has a minimum sound pressure rating of 85 dB A at 10 feet; or
    • All doors providing direct access from the home to the pool must be equipped with a self-closing, self-latching device with a release mechanism placed no lower than 54 inches above the floor.
  2. A person who fails to equip a new residential swimming pool with at least one pool safety feature as required in subsection (1) commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083, except that no penalty shall be imposed if the person, within 45 days after arrest or issuance of a summons or a notice to appear, has equipped the pool with at least one safety feature as required in subsection (1) and has attended a drowning prevention education program established by s. 515.31. However, the requirement of attending a drowning prevention education program is waived if such program is not offered within 45 days after issuance of the citation.

This statute is designed to reduce the number of child drowning fatalities by making it more difficult for children to exit a home and gain access to a pool without the supervising adult being aware of it.

Chapter 515.29 – In order to reduce the chances of children gaining access to a pool from a yard, the Florida Legislature passed Chapter 515.29, Residential Swimming Pool Barrier Requirements:

  1. A residential swimming pool barrier must have all of the following characteristics:
    • The barrier must be at least 4 feet high on the outside.
    • The barrier may not have any gaps, openings, indentations, protrusions, or structural components that could allow a young child to crawl under, squeeze through, or climb over the barrier.
    • The barrier must be placed around the perimeter of the pool and must be separate from any fence, wall, or other enclosure surrounding the yard unless the fence, wall, or other enclosure or portion thereof is situated on the perimeter of the pool, is being used as part of the barrier, and meets the barrier requirements of this section.
    • The barrier must be placed sufficiently away from the water’s edge to prevent a young child or medically frail elderly person who may have managed to penetrate the barrier from immediately falling into the water.
  2. The structure of an above ground swimming pool may be used as its barrier or the barrier for such a pool may be mounted on top of its structure; however, such structure or separately mounted barrier must meet all barrier requirements of this section. In addition, any ladder or steps that are the means of access to an above ground pool must be capable of being secured, locked, or removed to prevent access or must be surrounded by a barrier that meets the requirements of this section.
  3. Gates that provide access to swimming pools must open outward away from the pool and be self-closing and equipped with a self-latching locking device, the release mechanism of which must be located on the pool side of the gate and so placed that it cannot be reached by a young child over the top or through any opening or gap.
  4. A wall of a dwelling may serve as part of the barrier if it does not contain any door or window that opens to provide access to the swimming pool.
  5. A barrier may not be located in a way that allows any permanent structure, equipment, or similar object to be used for climbing the barrier.

This statute is designed to make access to a pool limited by any child, regardless of whether or not they live at the particular home. It provides for minimum specifications for fences or gates that will prevent access to the pool for young children who are at risk of drowning.

A Pool Owner’s Responsibility

Pool owners are responsible to ensure that their pools are safe for their families, guests and neighborhood children by complying with the requirements of F.S. §515.27 and F.S. §515.29. A property owner may be found liable for damages in the event of a swimming pool drowning or near drowning if they fail to comply with Florida’s pool safety laws.

Ways to Prevent Drowning Deaths

Most drowning deaths are preventable if pool owners take proactive steps to keep their pool area safe and well guarded from children. The Florida Swimming Pool Association encourages safety for all pool owners. They provide the following acronym for safety to remember some important tips:

  • S is for supervision – children need to be constantly supervised
  • A is for alert – watch for dangers in and around the pool
  • F is for free from substances
  • E is for emergency education – get trained with CPR and emergency rescue
  • T is for teaching
  • Y is for you – you are responsible for your pool

Why Would I Need an Attorney?

When someone drowns or suffers any kind of injury on or around a swimming pool, a complete investigation of the incident starts with the pool owner’s compliance with F.S. §515.27 and §515.29 mentioned previously. Often, tough questions need to be considered in order to find who is liable for a person’s injuries, such as: Did the property owner have a fence around the pool, or gates or doors properly secured? Were access alarms installed and properly functioning? Was the pool covered? Was the water drain on the pool properly protected?

In order to get these questions properly answered and determine whether or not there is legal responsibility on behalf of a pool owner for a drowning or near drowning injury, an individual may want to talk to an attorney knowledgeable in personal injury claims. At Rue & Ziffra, we have a staff of 8 attorneys who handle multiple areas of personal injury, including claims of swimming pool injuries and accidental drowning. We have over 30 years of combined experience helping individuals who have been wronged by someone else’s negligent behavior.

The above entry is NOT LEGAL ADVICE and should not be intended or construed as such. It is intended only as general information. No individual reading it should act upon it. Reading this entry does not create any relationship between Rue & Ziffra and individuals reading it. If you have questions or concerns, please seek professional legal counsel.

Preventing Unnecessary Drowning in Florida’s Pools
Written by: Allan L. Ziffra, Esq.
Author: Webmaster / Number of views (1) / Comments (0)
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