A fun day on the water can quickly turn deadly. Tragically, the trial lawyers at Mase Mebane Seitz in Miami know this too well: two clients experienced the loss of their college-aged daughter after a boat propeller struck her head and neck. The vessel, a pontoon boat, was leased from a Florida livery and operated by the victim’s friends. The parties being represented recently reached a confidential multi-million dollar settlement.
Pontoon boats provide a party on water. They generally have larger capacities than recreational fishing boats and may appear innocuous. Oftentimes, however, boaters are unaware of the dangers pontoon boats pose. For example, swimming under the boat and between the pontoon tubes is a recipe for disaster because the operator is unable to see the swimmer. Likewise, it is difficult to see behind the boat from the helm, which can result in serious injury by the propellers if the operator starts the engine without a proper lookout.
That is what happened in the recently concluded lawsuit brought by Mase Mebane Seitz on behalf of the deceased woman’s family. To relax on a Summer Saturday, the woman and her friends leased a pontoon boat from a Florida livery for an afternoon. When it was time to return, the boat operator failed to do a proper headcount to ensure everyone was onboard. They turned on the engine and started to move. Moments later, the boating party realized that their friend was face down in the water behind the pontoon boat. She died later that night from head injuries.
Liveries in South Florida and throughout the state must adhere to the Livery Statute. Fla. Stat. § 327.54. The law demands that liveries provide certain instructions to all people who lease their vessels, including:
- Operational characteristics of the vessel;
- Safe vessel operation and vessel right-of-way;
- The vessel operator’s responsibility for safe and proper operation of the vessel; and
- Local characteristics of the waterway in which the vessel will be operated.
Additionally, the law requires that the vessel be seaworthy, meaning the vessel and its renters are qualified for recreational boating. The Livery Statute specifies required safety equipment, such as life jackets. Each violation of the statute imposes a misdemeanor on the livery and could render the livery negligent per se. This means that, in addition to the criminal misdemeanor(s), the livery can be held liable for monetary damages in a civil lawsuit if it is proven that livery violated the law’s requirements. To protect boaters, the law also requires liveries to carry an insurance policy that provides at least $500,000 per person and $1 million per event. This insurance requirement is particularly important for civil lawsuits.
The trial attorneys at Mase Mebane Seitz have significant experience suing under the Livery Statute and holding liveries accountable for their violations. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result in a boating accident in Florida, including a vessel leased from a Florida livery, call the experienced trial lawyers at Mase Mebane Seitz in Miami, Florida.