Unfortunately it’s a headline that is all too familiar in the summertime. We read that a boating accident has claimed another life. It happened this past Saturday near Destin, Florida, where festivalgoers were gathered for the Emerald Coast Poker Run. Four were reportedly aboard; one dead, three injured, two of the three sustained serious injuries. The accident just happened, so details are still emerging and the investigation is just getting underway.
Destin bills itself as the “world’s luckiest fishing village.” That may be so, but the Choctowhatchee bay has a history of serious boating accidents. In early November, 2011, three boaters had to be rescued when their vessel crashed. That accident was caused by a previously sunken ship that had crashed, and was never removed. We not only represent litigants in domestic boat crashes, but also in accidents in international waters.
Boating accidents are very common worldwide. In a car accident, the law is very straightforward. It is obvious what court has jurisdiction over the matter, and it is easier to determine who is at fault. Law enforcement may be on the scene seconds later—which means that witnesses are still present and the cause and fault of the accident is often determined within an hour. Evidence couldn’t have been adulterated.
Accidents at sea are substantively different from a legal point of view. The cruise lines, for example, enjoy choice of forum, which basically means that if you are going to file a claim against them, they get to tell you where to sue—usually Miami. There is also the difficulty with bringing the facts to light. Often in a cruise ship accident, the first authorities on the scene are employed by the cruise line. The obvious conflict of interests is that the people who are investigating the incident, controlling—or removing—the evidence, are also the people who may be responsible for the incident. I remember a case that our firm successfully tried where the cruise line, which was our client’s employer, had asked him to perjure himself before a court of law to hide the truth.
Our boating accident attorneys have a variety of experience overcoming the challenges specific to maritime personal injury litigation. The cruise industry often inserts special provisions into the fine print on the ticket that are designed to curb the rights a passenger has in a legal matter. This even includes shortening the statute of limitations that would otherwise ensure that a passenger would have standing to sue, for example, two years later, when the extent of the injuries is completely obvious. Many other lawyers are unfamiliar with these pitfalls common to lawsuits against cruise lines. That’s why it is so important to contact the right maritime accident attorney as soon as feasible after an accident or injury.
Another way ship operators attempt to evade responsibility is to incorporate in a foreign country and fly a foreign flag—called a “flag of convenience”—and then argue that American courts have no jurisdiction in the matter because the vessel is “foreign”. However, where a ship operator or vessel has a connection to the United States, the American courts have upheld that on a variety of legal issues, their passengers and crew have a right to recover in American courts. Whether you are a passenger, seaman/crewmember, or other party adversely affected by negligence or intentional misconduct by the operator of a boat or ship, our firm stands ready to represent you and ensure your legal rights are fully preserved under the law.