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Delray Beach Boat Accident Lawyers

If you live in or visit the South Florida area, then you probably have a love of gorgeous water.  The odds are high that you spend at least some of your free time on the water in some way.  Whether you take cruise ships out of one of our local ports; use a pleasure boat on the ocean, in the swamps, on a lake, or in one of our gorgeous rivers or other local waterways; or use other watercraft like jet skis, a great time can quickly turn into something horrible if you encounter a reckless or negligent person on the water.

If you have been involved in a boating accident, your biggest risk factor in handling negotiations yourself is ignorance.  Most people have dealt with some type of vehicle accident in their pasts, and, whether they negotiated on their own behalf or had the services of a personal injury attorney, many of them were satisfied with the outcome of those negotiations. Unfortunately, that feeling of satisfaction can give people a false sense of security when entering into negotiations about a boating accident.  Boating accidents are not governed by state laws, but by Maritime Law.  Maritime Law has many similarities to state motor vehicle laws when it comes to accidents and determining negligence, but it also has crucial differences.  A failure to understand maritime law, whether it is you or your attorney who fails to understand it, can harm your boating accident case in significant ways.  In fact, it could even lead to you being held at fault for an accident that was caused by someone else’s negligent or reckless behavior.

At Demand the Limits Law Firm in Delray Beach, Florida, our boating accident lawyers are not just personal injury attorneys who occasionally handle boating cases.  Instead, they are knowledgeable in Maritime Law, and can help you navigate those issues while preserving your rights and fighting for the compensation that you deserve.

What should I do if I am in a boating accident? 

Not surprisingly, one of the questions we get most frequently is “what should I do if I am in a boating accident?”  The problem is that we often do not get that question until after-the-fact, when many people have not followed the suggested steps for a boating accident.  Our suggestions are actually different for a boating accident than they are for other types of vehicle accidents.  How severe was the accident?  Did you bump another boat while docking or leaving the dock, resulting in minimal damage to either vehicle?  If so, then you can be involved with a limited discussion with the other boat driver, exchanging insurance or other contact information, without discussing what led to the accident.

Higher-speed accidents occurring on the open-water and away from a dock have a different focus.  First, you want to ensure that everyone on your boat puts on their life jackets, in case there has been any damage to the boat and you end up in the water.  Someone in the boat needs to call for assistance and inform the authorities, as accurately as possible, of the location of the wreck.  These both become more important the larger the body of water and the further you are from shore or other vessels.  If your boat or the other vehicle has been damaged, you may need to abandon your boat or take the passengers from the other vehicle into your boat until authorities arrive.  Your primary concern should be about insuring the safety of all people involved, and your next concern should be getting contact information and insurance information for the other vehicle. Even if neither vehicle appears to have sustained any significant damage, if a collision occurred at high speeds, you should thoroughly inspect the boat before proceeding on the water.  In many instances, this means carefully returning to shore, getting the boat out of the water, and inspecting it for anything that could impact its structural integrity.

If the impact was more significant and you are dealing with wreckage and people in the water, then drowning becomes a major concern.  You want to get life jackets, life savers, and other flotation devices to any person in the water, as well as get any unconscious or injured people out of the water, if possible. This is a different scenario from auto accidents, because, with the threat of water, even minor injuries can turn fatal on the water.

Why are accidents on the water different?

There are several reasons why accidents on the water present a different risk for physical injury than accidents on land.  While we cannot discuss every one of those reasons, we can discuss the two we think have the greatest impact on boating accident claims: size and power differences and a lack of safety devices on boats.

First, there are size and power differences in water craft that just do not exist with land-based motorized vehicles.  Sure, if there is an accident between an 18-wheeler and a motorcycle, the 18-wheeler has more power, but the motorcycle has greater maneuverability and speed.  On the water, you have vehicles as large as cruise-ships or as fast as speedboats all the way down to non-motorized watercraft like kayaks or even tubes and floats.

Second, land-based vehicles have safety functions that do not exist in watercraft.  Airbags and seatbelts help save lives in high-speed collisions.  Even personal vehicles, like motorcycles, generally have safety options like helmets.  However, boats do not have those same safety features, despite the fact that boat passengers who are ejected from a boat at high speeds can hit the water with the same force as someone being thrown into a concrete road.  The reason for this has to do with the surface tension of water.  The same water that gently parts for you as you dive into it from a close distance holds together when hit with more intense forces.  This can result in broken bones, head injuries, and even death.

Does the type of boat or other watercraft matter in a boating accident claim?

The answer to that question is a complicated yes and no.  Maritime law applies to all watercraft, so the type of vehicle involved is not going to impact important issues like choice of law or venue.  However, in other ways, the type of watercraft can be very important.  First, the type of watercraft may dictate what type of qualifications the person operating the vehicle needed to have, which can be critical in determining fault, negligence, and recklessness.  Second, the type and relative size of vehicles can be important in determining how each party was supposed to act prior to the wreck.  Generally, the larger (heavier) vehicle is the one with the right-of-way, which is a common-sense rule that is based on the fact that larger vehicles not only take longer to stop, but are also generally more difficult to turn.  Finally, the type of vehicle can also provide clues about whether the captain was or should have been insured and the financial resources that may be available if you bring a claim against them.

Do I need a lawyer to help me after a boating accident?

Some law firms will tell you that you need an attorney for every single accident of any type.  At Demand the Limits, we do not believe that this is the case.  Some accidents are incredibly straight forward, involve property damage but no injuries, and can be handled quickly and efficiently by insurance companies.  Other accidents, however, especially when who is at fault is in question, may require the services of an attorney.

Instead of telling everyone that they definitely need an attorney after a boating accident, what we do is encourage people to come in and see one of our Delray Beach boating accident attorneys for a free consultation.  At that consultation, the attorney will go over the accident with you.  After that discussion, the attorney will offer professional advice on whether an attorney could help you and, if so, what he or she thinks that an attorney can do to help.  Our best piece of advice is to have this consultation before speaking to any insurance companies or to any law enforcement agencies, if at all possible.  Then, the attorney can make sure you are aware of your rights, and, in cases where fault is at issue, advice you how to truthfully proceed with those agencies without accidentally admitting fault.

What can I recover if I have been in a boating accident? 

The answer to this question is a very complex one that depends on the type of injuries you received, if any, and what type of property damage was involved.  In the law, the injured party is the person who was harmed by another person’s negligence or recklessness, and does not actually refer to everyone that received injuries as the result of an accident.  Determining who is the injured party involves applying maritime law to the accident scenario to determine fault.

If you are the injured party, then the law attempts to make you whole after an accident.  It does so through what are known as damages.  The word damages refers to an award, generally money, that is paid to a person as compensation for a loss or injury.  There are a number of different types of damages, and those can include, among other things: money for medical bills, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and pain and suffering.  Damages are the judicial system’s way of trying to make you whole.  Wholeness refers to the idea that damages should be used to put an injured party in the same position he or she was in prior to an accident.

Damages can easily make you whole when the only thing at issue in a dispute is property damage.  While your attorney may argue with a wrongdoer or their insurance company about the appropriate value of a damaged vehicle or other damaged, destroyed, or lost property, monetary damages can generally remedy a purely financial loss.  However, damages get more complex as an accident gets more complex.  If you have medical bills that are the result of an accident, the concept of wholeness suggests that the person who caused the accident should be responsible for those bills.  However, they may argue that the bills are excessive or that the injuries are not related to the accident.  If you have ongoing injuries that leave you unable to work, change your working capabilities, or otherwise require lifestyle changes and alterations, then you may need to make adjustments to your life to accommodate those changes.  For example, if you are in a wheelchair for a short period of time following a boating accident, you may need a healthcare professional to assist you during recovery.  However, if you are in a wheelchair for a significant period of time following an injury, you may need to make modifications in your home to make it wheelchair accessible.  In those types of claims, you can anticipate that the party at fault will challenge those claims and try to minimize the amount of money you need to compensate for any of those injuries.

The Role of Insurance Companies

Many people mistakenly believe that, as long as the other party is insured, recovery will not be a problem.  Ideally, insurance works in this manner.  After all, the role of an insurance company is to pay damages for its insured in instances covered under the policy.  However, the insurance company also generally has the duty to protect its insured, so that it should not pay claims that cannot be substantiated.  More significantly, most insurance companies are for-profit ventures, with the goal of minimizing payouts to maximize profits.  This can make it difficult to recover from an insurance company if you are representing yourself or if you are represented by an attorney who does not truly understand maritime law.

Conclusion

Boating accidents, while much rarer than land-based vehicle accidents, have the ability to be just as life-changing and damaging as more-familiar car, truck and motorcycle accidents.  However, even if you have successfully represented yourself in one of those accidents, you may be unprepared to protect your own interests in a boating accident because of the very specific rules and regulations associated with maritime law.  To make matters more complicated, you may be dealing with the aftermath of serious injuries that not only result in medical bills, but may also impact your ability to work or to return to your normal life.  The boating accident attorneys at Demand the Limits in Delray Beach can help you.  Contact us today for your free consultation.