Labor Day Weekend Turns into Tragedy for Teen After Being Struck by a Boat Propeller

Labor Day weekend turned into a disaster for one Florida family after a teenager was struck by the propeller of a boat and died. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says they are investigating the death of the teen from Fort Myers.

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department was notified about the accident just after noon on Sunday and reported that the teen was struck in the head by the propeller near Kemp Channel. He was taken to Lower Keys Medical Center where he was declared dead.

Florida Boating Accidents by the Numbers

Sadly, due to the beautiful climate and abundance of water in Florida, boating accidents are not unusual. In 2017, Florida reported 766 boating accidents, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission statistics. The leading cause of the accidents was the operator’s inattention. Out of all the accidents reports, 38%, or 261 accidents, were the result of collisions due to inattentive driving.

Some 67 people died as a result of boating accidents in 2017, with falls overboard being the leading cause of fatalities. Out of the victims that died, a whopping 81% were not wearing a life jacket.

Not all boating accidents are reported to officials, however. A boating accident only qualifies as reportable if it meets one of the following five criteria:

  • The accident involves a fatality.
  • A person disappears indicating a possible injury or death.
  • A person receives an injury that requires medical treatment beyond first aid.
  • There is a minimum of $2,000 in aggregate property damage to the boat or other property.
  • The vessel was a total loss.

May is reportedly the month with the most accidents, and Miami-Dade County reported the most accidents and injuries. Alcohol and drug use play a major role in nearly 20% of all accidents reported.

Types of Boating Accidents

Unlike what you may believe, boating accidents are not typically the result of hazardous sea conditions or bad weather. Instead, they are often the result of human error in times when visibility is good. Some of the most common boating accidents include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Collisions between vessels: Because boating is a popular recreational activity in the Sunshine state, there are over 900,000 vessels registered each year. Because of the crowded waterways, especially during the summer months, there is an increased risk for collision with another boat. These accidents can result in minor cuts and bruises, falling overboard, and in some cases even death.
  • Hitting the wake of another boat: Boats create wakes, or waves, that trail behind them as they are moving. The size of the wake depends on the size and speed of the boat creating them. In some cases, the wakes can be very large. If another vessel gets near the wake or approaches it at a wrong angle, the boat can capsize.
  • Hitting a wave: This accident is similar to hitting the wake from a large boat. A large wave can swamp the boat and make it sink or could cause the boat to capsize in some instances.
  • Collision with land or other fixed objects: There are plenty of other obstacles in the water besides boats. These objects include docks, buoys, and sandbars, just to name a few. Hitting any of these objects can result in a sudden jolt that can cause passengers to fall overboard.
  • Failure to have proper safety equipment: Boats operating in Florida are required to have safety devices on board such as fire extinguishers, personal flotation devices, proper lighting, and distress signals. Failure to abide by these rules could result in exacerbation of injuries and accidents.

Boating Accident Liability

Like most accidents, boating accident liability is based on negligence. To prove negligence, you must show that the operator of the boat failed to operate the boat in a manner that was reasonably safe, and this negligence resulted in your injuries. This negligence could include keeping the boat on the water when weather conditions deteriorated, turning the boat into a wake or wave, going too fast to keep from colliding with another vessel or object, or failing to provide the required safety equipment.

What if a Liability Waiver Was Signed?

In some instances, the passengers on a boat are not the owner or friends or family. When it comes to recreational boating, sometimes the passengers are members of the public who are paying the operator of the boat to take them for a ride. In these situations, the company that owns the boat and hires the operator often requires the passengers to sign a waiver that releases them from liability in the event of an accident.

To be enforceable, the waiver must clearly state all rights that are being waived, including the right to file a lawsuit for negligence. The terms must be clear enough that any ordinary person would be able to understand exactly what they are waiving by signing the agreement.

Although the legal system does not favor these waivers, the court will likely enforce them as long as the waiver meets the requirements. The only way that a waiver may be defeated is by proving that there was ambiguity in the waiver. This may include ambiguity about the activities contemplated by the agreement, the conduct that is subject to the liability release, or the length or term of the agreement.

By signing a waiver, it may be more difficult to prevail in a negligence action, but it does not mean that you are entirely barred from recovery if you or your family member has been injured by the negligence of another person.

Consult with a Personal Injury Attorney

If you or your loved one has sustained injuries on the water during a boating accident and you are not sure if your situation entitles to receive compensation, you need to consult with a Florida personal injury attorney who is experienced in boating accidents. The attorneys at Brill & Rinaldi have decades of experience helping injured clients receive the compensation that they deserve. Contact them today to schedule a consultation.