Last week, two out of four boaters were killed after their airboat flipped in the air while traveling up the St. Johns River in Melbourne, Florida. Eyewitness and fellow airboater Timothy Young told USA Today the airboat “was going kind of fast” and the “back half of the boat was sitting kind of low” before the incident occurred, suggesting operator error may not be the sole cause for the tragedy.
Like in any boating incident, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) is in charge of the investigation and finding out whether the driver was negligent or whether the incident was precipitated by some sort of maintenance issue or mechanical failure.
Boating season is upon us, kicked off during Memorial Day weekend only days away. During the last weekend of Spring, South Florida will once again become the boating capital of the world for many weeks to come, and each year around this time Ira H. Leesfield, renews its boating safety warnings to the public and businesses who partake in recreational boating.
Focusing on boat tours, South Florida offers a wide range of attractions that entertain countless visitors and locals alike. Zipping through the Star Islands aboard a speedboat, gliding on an Airboat in the Everglades, renting a mini catamaran off Key Biscayne, touring the Florida Keys on a jet-ski, paddle-boarding with friends off the Bay, parasailing along North Miami Beach, kitesurfing or windsailing along Coral Gables and Coconut Grove, these are just a few available attractions where visitors rely on the experience, training, and competence of tour operators for their ultimate safety.
Unfortunately, there is no avoiding boat accidents at this time of year, yet, incomprehensibly, none of these accidents should ever occur. Whether a boat tour operator drives its vessel too fast, in a careless manner, causing injuries or death to its passengers, or whether a boat capsizes due to the overloading of passengers, or even whether two vessels collide due to alcohol consumption or lack of training, every single boat accident is avoidable.
The vast majority of recreational and tourist activities enjoyed in Florida are not regulated by the Florida legislature. Most tour operators have complete freedom to operate their business virtually any way they see fit. This usually results in a culture of maximizing profit to the detriment of customer safety. Warning, instructing, and training tourists requires time, and time is money.
Fortunately, the Florida legislature has been proactive in regulating the boating industry, and specifically, jet ski rentals. Under Florida Statute 327.54, anyone renting jet skis to the public, whether for a guided tour or independent use, must provide certain training and instruction prior to the rental. This includes training regarding the operational functions, navigable rules, safe practices, and local hazards. The law allows only certified instructors to provide the mandatory training, and the participants must sign off that they received the training. Additionally, all renters born after 1988 must now pass a written examination covering jet ski safety at the rental site prior to the rental. These safety requirements are a result of the enormous amount of jet ski collisions that have occurred throughout Florida as the industry has soared.
Clearly, these jet ski statutes promote safety for inexperienced renters and anyone who may come in contact with them in the water. In our experience, however, these statutes are violated all too often. Jet ski rental companies simply do not spend the time to train and instruct rental customers pursuant to the statutes. They advertise to the public that jet skis are safe, entry-level devices that require no previous experience. They then rush renters through the process and place them in the water to operate these dangerous instrumentalities with virtually no training and hope for the best. In many cases our firm has handled, our clients were provided with no training or instruction at all.
As we approach the summer months in South Florida, we once again see the start of another boating season. Thousands of boaters in personal water craft will soon set out across our beautiful bays, sandbars, and offshore islands to take in all that our tropical paradise has to offer. As fun as a day spent out on a boat with friends and family can be, it is important to remember that boating can also be an extremely dangerous activity. Safety should always be the number one concern when planning for a day out on the ocean.
In 2014, Miami-Dade County ranked first in the state in boating accidents with 79. There were ten deaths due to boating accidents in the county alone, including four young adults who lost their lives in an extremely tragic collision near Dinner Key Marina on the 4th of July. In the Florida Keys, five people perished due to boating accidents in 2014.
Our law firm has represented many individuals who were permanently injured in boating accidents. We have also represented the families of individuals who tragically lost their lives while boating. Regrettably, we have often seen that many of these accidents could have been prevented if simple boating safety provisions were obeyed.
On Saturday night, a two boats were involved in an accident off Biscayne Bay, one mile off Matheson Hammock in Coral Gables, Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission which is investigating every single boating accident in the region has relayed minimal information through its spokesperson, Jorge Pino. What the public knows thus far is that a 68-foot motor yacht traveling north along the coast collided with a 27-foot pleasure boat that was navigating south along the coast.
Three occupants of the smaller boat fell into the water and were injured in the accident. All three were pulled onto the yacht by some of the 21 passengers on board. Among the three injured people, Maria Del Valle, 29, was critically injured. She was initially taken to Mercy Hospital for treatment before being transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where she tragically died.
Maria Del Valle was the mother of four children, with the youngest child being just 14-months-old, according to the FWC. The father of her youngest child, Maykel Perdomo, 33, is among the injured people who were on the small boat and thrown into the water. He is said to be in stable condition at this time. The third person involved is Dayron Baralt, 23, who was still in critical condition yesterday. His status remains unknown at this time.
Investigating officers for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have released several answers as to what exactly happened on Friday night at around 10:40pm. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jorge Pino said yesterday that it is typical for boaters to go out on the bay to watch the July 4th fireworks from the water. When the fireworks end, it is also typical that the majority of these boats sprint back to land, and the dark conditions always make heightened the dangers of a potential boat collision or accident. It would only take a leap to hear the investigators look to the operator of the Contender as the potential responsible person for the three-boat collision.
According to witnesses aboard the Carrera, the Contender was “coming straight toward” them at high speed and crashed into the Carrera before any evasive maneuvers could be undertaken by either captains. The Contender spun out of control after the first impact and ended its course after colliding with a third boat, the Boston Whaler.
On sunday evening, Ernesto Hernandez, 23, was pronounced dead at Ryder Trauma Center in Miami where he was airlifted following an incident off Nixon beach in Key Biscayne, Florida.
Ernesto was with his family and friends on a sunday afternoon when a nearby motorboat became stuck on a sand bar. Several people jumped out of the boat, including Ernesto, to assist the operator of the boat to free up the vessel from the sand bar. That is when one of the four propeller engines of the boat caught Ernesto and inflicted fatal injuries to his body. Jorge Pino, an investigator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission relayed to the media that the “young man who came to assist ended up in the rear of the vessel and one of the engines and the propeller actually caught his body, his torso.” Despite the rescue efforts, first of his friends and family, followed by fire rescue, Ernesto succumbed from the injuries he sustained while helping the vessel.
The boat in question is a 40-foot pleasure boat operated at the time by DJ Laz, a popular South Florida radio voice. The vessel was being used as Pitbull’s vodka brand Voli Spirits’ promotional boat.
A week ago, 15-year-old Deviny Boese, was killed in a boating accident off Redington beach in the Tampa area. She had joined a few friends on a 23-foot twin engine fishing boat. Another 15-year-old, Brandon Noah, was operating the boat when tragedy occurred.
Deviny and her friend Sarah Dobbs were sitting and holding on to a tube, when all of a sudden the boat came much too close to a dock. Noah attempted to maneuver away, but the tube was going too fast and the dock was too close. The tube flipped over, catapulting the two female teenagers into the bank. Sarah only sustained an ankle injury, but Deviny’s body slammed into a dock piling. According to the initial statements and an early investigation, Noah jumped off the boat and attempted to revive Deviny. Paramedics rushed to the scene, but the young girl died minutes later.
This tragedy is the latest fatal boating accident. These events come on the heel of a new report published this week by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In its 2011 Boating Accident Statistical Report, the FWC found that Florida leads the nation with 742 boating accidents. The number of reportable accidents (accidents resulting in death, significant injury, or disappearance) have increased by 11% since last year, and by 20% since 2009.
In the State of Florida, the top 10 counties with the most reportable boating accidents are:
The primary caused for Florida’s nation-leading 742 boating accidents in 2011 was careless behavior by the boat operator. in all, almost 70% of all boating accidents were caused by an operator or a passenger behaving in an illegal, careless, reckless manner. Continue reading
A boat operator has the duty to operate his or her vessel in a reasonable and safe manner and the duty to the public to exercise reasonable care in the use, operation, and control of the vessel.
The “reasonable care” standard is not singular to the State of Florida, and it generally applies, in one form or another, in all of the other states throughout the country. It will be a central issue in the civil case that will soon begin in Pennsylvania after these events took place on July 7, 2010 in the Delaware River:
Leesfield Scolaro has a long standing history in representing families of victims who lost their life or were catastrophically injured by the negligence of a boat operator. Recently, Ira Leesfield and Thomas Scolaro resolved a tragic case where a young child who was snorkeling with his family was killed when he was hit and ran over by a high horsepower motorboat operated by a teenager.
Despite the duty of reasonable care, the teenager was reckless in his operation of the boat and was the sole reason for causing this horrific incident. In the ensuing claim, the complaint alleged multiple violations of the law by the operator of the boat, including the following violations:
– Failure to operate the subject motorboat at a safe and reasonable speed;
– Failure to keep a safe and proper lookout while operating the subject motorboat;
– Recklessly operating the subject motorboat at an excess speed under the conditions;
– Failure to use caution in the operation of the subject motorboat when approaching snorkelers with a divers down flag;
– Failure to use caution in the operation of the subject motorboat when approaching snorkelers, divers, swimmers and other boaters;
Leesfield Scolaro is one of the leading personal injury firms to handle boating and maritime accidents. Established over 35 years ago as a Key West and South Florida trial lawyers, this firm has tried many cases in Key West. Leesfield Scolaro has obtained the largest verdict in Monroe County’s history. Continue reading