Admiralty Law and Boating Accidents in Florida

Anyone injured due to the negligence of another car, truck, or motorcycle driver has the right to bring a personal injury claim against the driver of the vehicle. Motor vehicle accidents are typically brought in Florida state court. Accidents involving slips and falls and product liability cases are also filed in Florida’s state civil courts.

Boating accidents are more complicated. Many boating accidents can also be brought in federal admiralty court, which has its own set of laws, rules, and procedures.

When does United States maritime law control how boating accidents are decided?

In general, any accidents that occur on “navigable waters” are considered admiralty claims and are decided by maritime law, not traditional land-based law. Admiralty claims can be filed in either the U.S. Admiralty Court or in Florida’s state court both pursuant to maritime law.

Historically, admiralty law applied to the transportation of cargo and passengers – especially before the eras of trains and motorized vehicles. In Florida, recreational boats are also bound by maritime law if the boat operated on navigable waters. This includes the cruise ships that sail out of our five ports, and help keep tourist dollars coming in.

Navigable waters generally include lakes, rivers, oceans, and harbors that are capable of holding vessels that can transport interstate or foreign commerce. This means that waterways that reside wholly in Florida are not likely to be considered navigable. For example, boating accidents on small ponds and man-made lakes, will likely be heard in Florida’s state civil court.

Florida’s navigable water system includes:

  • The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway
  • The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway
  • Seaports
  • Various harbors, bays, and bayous
  • Numerous inlets and passes
  • Canals and channels
  • Rivers and creeks

The navigable waters in Florida are primarily monitored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

There may be other factors that determine if a boating accident can be heard in federal admiralty court such as the need for a relationship between the accident and its ability to disrupt commerce.

There are pros and cons to filing in federal admiralty court versus Florida state court. Some of the factors a skilled Florida boating accident lawyer needs to understand are:

  • The ability to have the case heard by a jury
  • The rules of evidence
  • The ability to attach the vessel as security for payment versus the possibility that only the vessel can be used to pay damages
  • Insurance obligations
  • The laws of care that apply to passengers, boat occupants, swimmers, and others

For example, maritime law reviews whether the boat operator used good seamanship practices based on water conditions, the boat involved, other boats, currents, and other factors. The navigation rules for vessels are much different than for cars and trucks.

An experienced Florida maritime lawyer guides accident victims through these difficult trial waters and brings your claim in the correct court. At Yeboah Law Group, our Fort Lauderdale boat accident lawyers help accident victims get justice. To understand your rights, please call us at (800) TELL-SAM to talk with a caring lawyer. You can also reach us by using our contact form.