Florida has the highest rate of recreational and personal watercraft ownership in the United States. If you have been involved in a personal watercraft accident, an experienced maritime attorney can help you receive the compensation that you need. Although Jet Ski is a popular product made by Kawasaki, many people refer to any personal watercraft as a jet ski, including Sea-Doos and Wave Runners.
A personal watercraft accident is often governed by maritime law. Maritime law is a unique body of law that derives from a blend of long-held legal customs, precedents, and statutes. It differs substantially from the land-based state law that applies to most personal injury claims.
Having a personal watercraft accident attorney with experience and training in the field of maritime law is a critical asset when you’re injured in an accident. Our team of attorneys possesses special training in the field of maritime law. Additionally, we have the tenacity and attention to detail necessary to maximize compensation.
How Are Jet Skis and Waverunners Risky?
Jet skis and other forms of personal watercraft pose unique risks even to experienced boaters. Unlike a boat, a personal watercraft is meant to ride much more aggressively on the water. These watercraft accelerate quickly and have the ability to make sharp maneuvers. While these features make personal watercraft popular, they also substantially increase the likelihood of an accident for riders, other boaters, and others using the water.
Poor Training and Instruction
Many if not most jet ski accidents are the result of poor training and inexperience. Jet ski rental operations and sellers of personal watercraft often do not properly train people to safely operate personal watercraft. A safety-conscious rental operation will discuss at length the specific features of the personal watercraft that is being rented. This will include how the jet ski starts, stops, and maneuvers while not being throttled.
In addition, proper instruction should include a list of dos and don’ts for operating a personal watercraft around other boats and operators as well as a discussion of how to operate the personal watercraft in different weather conditions, wave conditions, and near other maritime installations including piers, docks, platforms, bridges, and more. Other issues that should be discussed before renting a jet ski include:
- Equipment failures,
- No wake zones,
- Rules for traveling near other boaters, and
- Emergency maneuvers.
In short, a rental agency or seller should provide an inexperienced operator with detailed instructions about how to safely operate a personal watercraft. It should be clear to the operator what needs to be done to avoid accidents.
Poorly Maintained and Defective Equipment
Jet skis and other types of personal watercraft tend to need a great deal of maintenance and repairs over time. If a personal watercraft is not properly maintained, or if needed repairs are not made, the potential for an accident increases.
There have historically been some major design flaws with jet skis and other personal watercraft. Perhaps the biggest flaw is the inability for an operator to steer the unit when the throttle is not engaged.
Deadly accidents have occurred because someone attempts to avoid an accident by decelerating while attempting to maneuver a personal watercraft in a different direction. It is a common reaction just before an accident to attempt to decelerate when suddenly altered to a potential crash. The inability to steer a watercraft in certain situations is a major contributing cause of accidents.
Excessive Speed and Aggressive Operators
While there are many responsible operators, some individuals tend to operate jet skis, waverunners, and personal watercraft in an aggressive and reckless manner.
Operating a jet ski, waverunner, or personal watercraft in crowded areas can be particularly dangerous. Personal watercraft are often compared to motorcycles because they can make sharp and fast maneuvers. Many accidents occur because an aggressive operator does not take the time to account for swimmers or other boaters. In conditions where there is a lot of activity on the water, operating a personal watercraft is often not a good idea.
One of the most common risks associated with a jet ski is the inability to handle or steer the jet ski when it is not engaged. This feature associated with jet skis contributes to many accidents because an inexperienced operator is unable to safely steer the watercraft away from danger.
How to Recover Damages for Your Personal Watercraft Accident
An injury from a jet ski, waverunner, and personal watercraft accident can leave you with all sorts of problems including medical bills, lost wages, diminished ability to work, and permanent disability.
Recovering money for your accident requires you to first show that the accident was caused by someone else’s negligence. Claims under maritime law are similar to most other personal injury claims in that you have to prove several core elements to win your case. These requirements (described below) are duty, breach of duty, causation and damages.
First, you must establish that a legal duty was owed by the person who injured you. The existence of a legal duty is an important first step in proving that someone was required to do something to prevent the accident.
Whether a legal duty exists is often complicated and is an important threshold issue for a court to decide. When it comes to personal watercraft, individuals and companies owe a duty to act with reasonable care.
Operators of boats and watercraft owe a duty to not injure others and abide by standards of reasonable conduct. Some factors that are often considered in establishing if a duty exists include:
- What rules applied to the operation of a boat or personal watercraft? Chapter 327 of the Florida Statutes governs vessel safety in Florida, with Section 327.39 laying out the primary rules for personal watercraft. This may include no wake zones, speed limits, or other rules that pertain to the operation of a boat or personal watercraft. A person must generally comply with all such rules or laws. When an accident occurs while someone is violating a law, it may be presumed that the person acted negligently.
- What were the conditions at the time of the accident? The duty of reasonable care tends to require a person to assess and react appropriately under the circumstances as they exist. If you are in a waterway that is overcrowded with choppy conditions, you need to operate your boat or personal watercraft at a safe speed and stay a safe distance away from other boaters. Likewise, if the conditions on the water are difficult or even dangerous to others, you should not be operating aggressively.
- What are the “rules of the road”? When a collision between boaters occurs, it is often because someone did not understand that boaters (including jet skis and personal watercraft) must normally stay to the right when approaching another boater. While this may seem like common sense, boat traffic is often much different than road traffic. People travel on all types of trajectories and it is important that boaters be able to see and appreciate all other people and devices in the water. When you see another boater or personal watercraft, you must stay to the right to provide a safe distance.
What is considered reasonable is not always agreed upon, and the assistance of a maritime attorney is often critical in helping determine the existence of a duty.
Companies and people who manufacture, rent, service, and maintain personal watercraft also owe a variety of duties.
Florida law requires rental companies to provide proper safety instruction to renters. Despite this, many rental companies fail to provide even the most basic instruction needed to operate a personal watercraft safely. Even though these rental companies often attempt to limit liability for negligence through the use of waivers, these attempts to avoid responsibility for bad actions are often not enforceable.
Manufacturers of personal watercraft also owe a duty to manufacture and design their products in a reasonably safe manner, or to properly warn of potential dangers associated with the personal watercraft.
The second step in proving your case is establishing that the legal duty at issue was breached by the defendant. Proving breach depends on the facts, testimony, and evidence presented at trial. Some examples of how breach can be proved in your case include:
- Presenting evidence that the accident was caused because another boater was traveling too fast or acting recklessly at the time of the accident.
- Presenting evidence that the accident occurred when another boater was violating a speed limitation.
- Presenting evidence that someone’s object located in the water was not clearly marked.
- Presenting evidence that a personal watercraft manufacturer failed to properly warn of a hazard.
Any evidence that shows someone failed to use reasonable care when they were required to do so can help establish a breach of duty.
The third requirement in proving a jet ski, waverunner, or personal watercraft accident is that the accident was caused by the breach of duty. In other words, the fact that someone did something wrong is not enough. You need to show that the wrongful conduct was the actual and foreseeable cause of the accident.
Some cases have difficult causation issues while others are clearcut. For example, if a boater and a jet ski are both traveling at an excessive rate of speed when an accident occurred, can you still claim that the boater is partially at fault for causing the accident? In most cases, the boater will still be partially at fault for causing the accident because they breached the duty of care and the accident would not have otherwise occurred.
It is important to think of causation as being part of a chain reaction. When the wrongful conduct leads to an expected outcome, causation may be strong. However, causation may be difficult to establish if the wrongful conduct causes an injury or accident that was either unlikely or has multiple other explanations.
The final element for your case requires you to prove that you suffered some form of damages as a result of the accident. Typical types of damages include:
- Medical expenses,
- Lost wages,
- Property damage,
- Disability or disfigurement,
- Pain and suffering, and
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
Monetary damages typically need to be documented through an expert report. For example, lost wages are typically proven in reference to your past earnings and the diminished earnings following the accident. Medical expenses are proven through billing records and an expert’s opinion regarding medical care needed in the future.
The assistance of experts is often necessary to prove the full extent of your damages. For example, you may need a life care planner to establish the type of long-term medical care a severely injured person may need. You may need an economist to prove the long-term lost wages you incurred because the injury has reduced your capacity to work. A physician may provide an opinion about the medical treatment you will need over time and the associated costs. We work with qualified experts so that our clients can maximize their recovery.
Common Pitfalls in Personal Watercraft Cases
Maritime accidents have unique issues that can cause problems for your case. You may be told by the insurance company or potential defendant that your case has no value or, even worse, that the defendant will prevail. However, an experienced maritime attorney can often help you overcome these problems to receive the compensation you deserve for your accident.
Limitation of Liability
Maritime law has a unique feature that allows certain types of boats and their owners to limit liability for an accident to the value of the boat (including cargo). For example, if a commercial fishing boat valued at $750,000.00 causes an accident that results in multiple deaths, the fishing boat may seek to limit its damages to the value of the boat.
However, for the boat owner to limit its liability, it must prove that the owner did not have knowledge of a condition that caused or contributed to the accident. Limitation of liability issues often arise in cases where a boat is owned or operated by a company or is used in a commercial enterprise.
However, where there is evidence that the owner either was aware of or should have known of problems with the boat, it may not be able to limit its liability. The fact that boat owners have at their disposal unique defenses like limitation of liability makes hiring an experienced and knowledgeable maritime attorney important.
Jet ski and personal watercraft rental operations tend to require you to sign a liability waiver when renting a personal watercraft to you. These waivers typically state that you are aware that use of a personal watercraft is risky and that accidents may occur. Most of these waivers expressly state that you will not pursue a claim against the rental company if you suffer an injury or even death.
Liability waivers are sometimes enforceable. However, sometimes they are not. For example, a party typically does not limit its liability if it is aware that an accident is likely to occur or if its conduct is considered to be grossly negligent. Moreover, state law often requires rental operations to provide certain types of instruction or disclosures to its customers. Failure to comply with these laws may violate public policy and the use of a liability waiver to avoid compliance with the law may not be permitted.
Rental operations will often disclaim responsibility for an accident and immediately point to a liability waiver. From our experience, there are many ways to fight back against negligent rental operations. Speak with us today if you believe your accident or injury was caused by a negligent rental operation.
Some accidents are the result of multiple parties acting negligently. When this occurs, the percentage of negligence committed by each party will need to be determined by a jury at trial (unless the case settles beforehand). Maritime law follows the rule of pure comparative fault by which your damages will be reduced based on your percentage of fault. So, if you are determined to be 30% at fault for causing the accident, the damages you can recover will be reduced by 30%.
Most maritime claims must be filed within three years of the accident. However, it is important to confirm that your accident occurred on navigable waters. If the accident occurred on state territorial waters, the limitation period (and laws) of the state will apply to govern your accident.
Joinder of All Parties
Maritime claims are often complex and for a singular incident, it is not uncommon to have multiple defendants with different types of claims asserted in a lawsuit. One reason for this is that multiple acts of negligence often combine to result in a singular injury.
Retaining an experienced maritime attorney for your personal watercraft or jet ski accident case will help ensure all claims are asserted against all potential defendants. Failure to join all potentially responsible parties could result in a reduced recovery for your case.
The attorneys at Johns Law Group are maritime specialists with extensive training in the field of maritime law. A large part of our practice is focused on representing people injured on navigable waterways. We fight hard for the compensation you need to recover from your injuries.
If you have been injured in a personal watercraft accident, we ask that you contact us today to discuss your case and schedule a free no-obligation consultation. You can reach us 24/7 at (866) 970-0977.