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2021 Guide to Making a Boating Accident Claim in Florida

— May 21, 2021

You might be tempted to delay getting medical treatment after a boating accident, especially if your injuries appear minor. Don’t make this mistake.

Boating accidents are all too common. In fact, the Coast Guard found that over 4,000 boating accidents occurred just in 2019. 

If you have been involved in a boating accident, you probably have a lot of questions about making a boating accident claim. Maybe you are wondering whether you can receive compensation for your claim or whether you should even bother to file a claim. 

If you are considering filing a boating accident claim in Florida, there are some critical steps you should take to help make your claim successful. These steps will help you gather important evidence to prove your claim and the value of damages you have suffered so you can maximize your potential compensation. 

Take Action to Protect Yourself After a Boating Accident

It can be hard to think straight right after a boating accident. However, remembering to take the following steps will make it easier to succeed on your boating accident claim. These precautions will also help prevent you from facing negative legal consequences. 

Ensure Everyone Is Safe (But Don’t Leave the Scene of the Accident)

Before you do anything else, make sure that you, your passengers, and your property are out of harm’s way. Also do everything you can to help anyone else involved.

However, do not leave the scene of the accident. Florida Statute 327.30(5) prohibits anyone operating a boat involved in an accident or injury from leaving the scene until they have:

  • Given “all possible aid to persons involved” in the accident;
  • Made a “reasonable effort to locate the owner or persons” affected in the accident; and 
  • Notified law enforcement personnel. 

Not all boating accidents require you to notify law enforcement personnel, however. 

Inform Law Enforcement 

Florida law requires any vessel operators involved in a “serious” boating accident to immediately report the accident to local law enforcement. A “serious” boating accident is one which involves:

  • Property damage totaling at least $2,000;
  • Injuries that require medical treatment (besides first aid); or
  • The death or disappearance of anyone on board any of the boats involved in the accident. 

You should notify either the local sheriff’s department or the local police department when you report a boating accident. If you don’t know what county or municipality you are in, you can also report the accident to the Florida Fish and Wild Conservation Commission. To do this, dial *FWC from any cell phone in Florida. 

If someone has life-threatening medical injuries or if there is an emergency, you should dial 911. 

Exchange Information with All Involved Parties

Make sure you know the name, address, and insurance information for all involved owners. Also ensure that you know the basic information of every boat involved in the accident. 

Document Everything About the Accident

Shallow river high speed boating at Skippers canyon near Queenstown, New Zealand; image by Shahid Kazi, via
Image by Shahid Kazi, via

After a boating accident, it’s essential that you act quickly to preserve all evidence. Doing this will help increase the chances that your claim succeeds in court. These steps include:

  • Photographing the scene of the accident, the vessels involved, and any property damage to other objects;
  • Getting statements from witnesses (if possible);
  • Noting any unusual weather or environmental conditions; and
  • Saving all documents and physical evidence related to the accident.

Also make sure that you document any losses that you incur from the accident, including medical bills and lost wages. 

Get Medical Treatment (Even If Your Injuries Do Not Seem Severe)

The next step in making a boating accident claim is getting medical treatment. 

You might be tempted to delay getting medical treatment after a boating accident, especially if your injuries appear minor. Don’t make this mistake.

By seeking medical assistance for even minor injuries, you can ensure that you receive a proper diagnosis and have proof of your injuries. 

You should consider consulting a medical doctor even if you do not feel injured at all. This will help ensure that you do not have hidden or delayed-onset injuries like spinal cord trauma, whiplash, or PTSD.

Know Your Rights After a Boating Accident

In Florida boating accident lawsuits, the party responsible for the accident is generally liable to pay compensation to the injured party. This means that you could be entitled to financial reimbursement for your losses relating to the accident. However, you will have to prove that the party that you are suing was negligent. In other words, you’ll need to prove that the other party:

  • Owed you a duty;
  • Failed to meet that duty because of their act (or failure to act); and
  • Caused you to incur a loss by failing to fulfill the duty that they owed you.

However, Florida is a pure comparative negligence state. This means that a court will determine to what extent each party was responsible for the accident. The court will then assign each party a percentage of the blame for the accident. If you share a portion of the fault for the accident, your damages will be proportionally reduced.

Know How You Can Get Compensated

There are two major kinds of damages that courts award in Florida: compensatory and punitive. 

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are designed to reimburse you for whatever losses you suffered because of the accident, such as medical bills and lost wages. These damages can also be awarded for more subjective losses like pain and suffering. 

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are intended to punish a party that committed a wrongful act. These kinds of damages are usually awarded only in cases where one party recklessly or intentionally caused a boating accident. 

Consult a Lawyer as Soon as Possible

You have only a limited time to file a claim related to a boating accident. In Florida, this time period—governed by the state’s statute of limitations—is usually just four years for negligence claims. If you wait until after this time to bring your claim, it will probably be thrown out. For this reason, it’s important to reach out to a qualified Florida boating accident lawyer as soon as possible after your accident. 

Although this guide outlines a general background about making a boating accident claim in Florida, filing a claim on your own is often challenging. A lawyer can help you understand your rights, gather evidence, calculate your damages, and maximize your compensation. 

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