Florida Boating Accident Statistics

Florida Boating Accident

BoatingWork with the Tampa Boat Accident attorneys at Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore!

With Florida’s more than 2,000 miles of shoreline and over 11,000 miles of rivers, streams, and waterways, boating is a staple of the state’s recreation. Commercial boats, personal watercraft, yachts, and boats used in a variety of Florida industries rely on our waterways to boost our economy and improve our lives.

Unfortunately, though, boating is hardly risk-free.

In the 2013 Boating Accidents Statistical Report, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reaffirmed that Florida has more registered vessels than any other state, with a 2013 total of 896,632 vessels. Even with all those vessels, there were only 736 reported accidents that year, resulting in 420 injuries – a rate of 47 injuries for every 100,000 vessels. 62 deaths resulted. (As a comparison, in that same year, there were over 18.7 million cars on the road in Florida, with almost 317,000 accidents, 210,887 injuries, and 2,402 fatalities. That’s 1128 injuries and 13 fatalities for every 100,000 vehicles.)

Though the numbers of boating accidents may seem low compared to traffic accident statistics, boaters would do well to remember that a few precautions can help keep those numbers down.

Boating Insurance: A tragic majority of boaters are not covered by insurance. Though your homeowner’s insurance policies might cover some very small vessels, anything large enough to dock will normally need its own policy.

Falling Overboard vs. Collisions: On the road, the largest cause of injury and death is a collision between vehicles. On the water, however, the leading cause of death (74%) is drowning – and it’s usually preceded by a boater falling overboard. In fact, 42% of the 2013 fatal accidents involved someone falling overboard. When a personal watercraft (PWC) is involved, however, the incidence of collisions seems to jump, with 40% of PWC accidents involving collisions with another vehicle.

Alcohol and Drug Use: 15% of fatalities in boating were related to alcohol or drug use. Though this number, too, is lower than the 31% of traffic fatalities attributed to alcohol-impaired driving, it is still important to drink responsibly when boating.

At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we care about your safety when boating, and look forward to even fewer boating-related injuries and fatalities in the future. If you’ve been injured by someone else’s negligence while boating, we can help. Contact us today for a free consultation.

Consider a Florida Claim Bill

Florida Claim BillThe Florida Legislature has provided a system whereby injured parties – from drivers struck by reckless police cars to wrongfully convicted prisoners – can sue the government in a circumstance where a private person would be liable , piercing the protections of sovereign immunity. But the process isn’t easy, and full compensation may be elusive. At the outset,, the sovereign immunity protections provide a damage cap to such liabilities, in the amount of $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident. If your damages exceed that cap, you may be required to complete the complicated claim bill process in order to receive full compensation.

Claim Bills Cannot be Filed Unless a Party Exhausts Other Remedies First

The first step in each claim against the government is not much different from any other tort claim. You file suit, name the defendants, go through the discovery and negotiation process, and, if necessary, have the matter decided in a court of law. Depending on the governmental agency involved, there may also be an administrative process to navigate in order to reach a resolution.

When the court and administrative process works in your favor, you will end up with a judgment or negotiated agreement as to your damage amount. If that amount is below $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident, the agent or entity should pay it and resolve the matter. If, however, the amount of your damages is found to be well above that number, you may choose to seek additional funds.

Insurance in Excess of the Cap is No Guarantee of Payment

The governmental officer or agency may have insurance coverage that exceeds the damage cap amount. If your damages are within the insurance coverage, the governmental entity may choose to settle your case out of the insurance policy. The decision to do so is, however, entirely within the discretion of the entity in question. If that agency or entity won’t release the funds, you will have to file a claim bill to attempt to receive full compensation.

Florida Claim Bill – Just a Bill

Part of the reason that you must exhaust all other remedies first is that a claim bill faces an uphill battle: You are asking, in essence, for the legislature to allocate funds out of the public coffers to cover your adjudicated damages. Though on its face that only seems fair, legislators may fear that they will gain few political benefits from giving money away, no matter how deserving the cause or case.

If you do decide to proceed, understand that a claim bill is filed with both the Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives, and must be passed by both legislative bodies. The bill must contain statements of the history of the case, the amount of the damages (previously decided by judgment or negotiated stipulation), and how much has already been paid by the officer or agency.

A claim bill must be filed within four years of the incident, and you should file before August 1 to increase the likelihood that your bill will be heard during the next regular session.

Once a claim bill is filed, a Special Master is appointed. The Special Master is charged to complete a separate discovery process, examine the evidence in the case through investigation and testimony, and decide what to recommend to the legislature in regards to the bill. The Special Master is not bound by jury verdicts or party stipulations, and may decide that a claim is worth less or even more than what was decided previously. Finally, the Special Master will prepare a formal recommendation that the bill be reported favorably or unfavorably and explain the facts and analysis that led to that recommendation.

The Special Master’s report is made available to members of the House and the Senate who must then vote on your claim bill, just like with any other piece of proposed legislation. Also like any other proposed piece of legislation, if your case is likely to be unpopular (as is almost any case seeking to allocate taxpayer funds away from the taxpayers at large), be prepared to face difficulty in obtaining a spot on the calendar for floor debate.

In the rare case that a claim bill is passed by the legislature, all parties must sign the settlement agreement before the case is considered resolved.

At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we have experience in navigating through the often-frustrating Florida claim bill process, and we can help you understand how to proceed. If you have been injured by an officer or agency of the government, contact us today for a free consultation.

Myths Driving Tort Reform

Harmful Tort ReformWork with Tampa’s skilled Tort Claim attorneys!

Chances are, you’ve heard something about that “hot coffee spill” lawsuit against McDonalds. It’s often held up as an example of what’s wrong with the jury system. Like so many people, maybe you’ve criticized the case – or, perhaps, even laughed at the verdict.

We’d be willing to bet that, if you knew all the facts, you’d agree the case was no laughing matter.

There was certainly nothing funny about the lawsuit to Stella Liebeck, the woman who filed it more than a decade ago. In 1992, Ms. Liebeck purchased a cup of coffee at a McDonalds drive-through window. Her grandson, who was driving, pulled the car forward and then stopped so that his grandmother could add cream and sugar to her cup. As Ms. Liebeck removed the lid, the coffee – which was dispensed to her at a heat of over 180 degrees – spilled into her lap, almost instantaneously causing third-degree burns over six percent of her body, including in an undeniably sensitive area. Ms. Liebeck spent eight days in the hospital, having to endure painful skin grafting and debridement. All she asked of McDonalds was for it to pay $20,000 for her medical bills. But McDonalds refused – despite the fact that the fast-food giant was on notice of more than 700 claims of coffee burns to its patrons, over a ten-year period, including many that were similar to Ms. Liebeck’s. The jury awarded Ms. Liebeck $200,000, but reduced its award to $160,000, finding that Ms. Liebeck was 20% responsible for her injury. She was also awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages, but that amount was reduced to $480,000 by the court. After trial, the parties entered into a secret settlement to avoid an appeal.

Shame on McDonalds – and shame on those who don’t want you to know that full story. Because of overzealous “tort reform” efforts spurred by large companies who want to limit their own liability, Ms. Leibeck’s trauma is often reduced to a punch line in any joke about frivolous lawsuits. When the story is regurgitated, the full extent of her damages and her early offer of settlement are deleted, leaving only a bare-bones “hot coffee: want $2 million” meme. This outrageous oversimplification is then hoisted up as a reason to prevent these sorts of lawsuits from being filed in the future.

Enter, stage right, The Stella Awards.

Feeding the outrage over “greedy victims” forcing others to pay for their own “stupidity,” The Stella Awards stepped up and, from 2002-2007, presented annual “awards” to the most ridiculous lawsuits they could find.

The Stella Awards are most famous for a persistent chain-mailed list of fury-inducing cases – ones that even their own official website labels as bogus fabrications. These fake cases range from the mother who successfully sued a furniture store after she tripped over her own toddler, to the older woman who blithely decided that “cruise control” meant “auto-pilot,” and many other fake cases that have entered into the realm of urban legend. These pure-fiction stories of rewarded idiocy are too frequently circulated – even, most disappointingly, by news organizations – as factual proof that our system of civil justice has gone off the rails and needs “reform.” A website perusal of the six years of actual “Stella Awards” reveals a collection of lawsuits that were mostly dismissed, withdrawn, or listed with no resolution.

It’s important to know the essential facts about any given case before you join the uninformed chorus criticizing it. Our jury system is not infallible, and juries can and do make mistakes. Far more often than not, however, juries – the people we entrust to actually hear and weigh the facts that the public often overlooks – get it right. At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we support the rights of all potential plaintiffs to have their cases heard, and we trust the judges and juries in Florida to fairly evaluate each case after hearing all the facts.

If you have been injured by someone else’s negligence – or by their willful disregard for your safety, just as McDonalds willfully disregarded Ms. Leibeck’s safety – contact us today for a free consultation. We’d be happy to help.