Two things about recreational boating cases in the waters off of Florida: They are common and they are complicated. They are complicated because maritime law applies. And under the maritime law, the boat owner is entitled in most instances to run to Federal Court and file what is called a Limitation of Liability case. This case is authorized by a Federal Statute called the Limitation of Liability Act (LOLA). That Act is at 46 USC Sec. 30501 through 30512. The LOLA was enacted in 1851 as a way to promote and protect shipbuilding in the United States. At that time, insurance for shipping was not readily available.
So unlike any other area of law in the United States, the person who caused serious injury or death can file a case in Federal Court asking that the Court protect them and limit their liability. Under LOLA, the liability of the owner of the boat, yacht, jet ski, ship, or any other vessel can be limited to the value of the vessel and its freight or cargo if any. If the boat sank or caught fire, that value can be zero. Usually, the value of the boat is significantly lower than the value of the claims. So under LOLA, the boat owner can cause life changing injuries and even death and escape liability and responsibility.
The filing of a LOLA action in Federal Court stops all other claims from going forward. Even claims in state court are stayed or stopped. In the maritime law under LOLA, there is a concept called concursus. Under this concept all claims must be tried in the Limitation proceeding in Federal Court. Thus, the maritime law provides that when a boat owner files a LOLA case, all other cases are stopped and the claimants must assert their claims in the Federal Court in the limitation action. The LOLA action also is non-jury.
Seeking justice in a boat accident case is possible even when LOLA applies
Like almost everything in life and in the law, there are exceptions. There is a procedure by which the respondents, who are the injured people, can file a motion asking the court to lift the stay on other litigation and allow the respondents to assert claims in state court. And in state court even though maritime law applies the claimants can have their case decided by a jury.
There are exceptions to the rule that the liability of the shipowner/boat owner can be limited to the value of the vessel. One exception is where the negligence is within the knowledge or privity of the owner of the vessel. If the owner of the boat is also the captain at the time that the boat hit something or someone, the owner has knowledge and privity of the negligence.
This of course is not just or fair. It should be changed. The reasons for LOLA in the first place no longer exist. There is an enormous amount of recreational boat building in the U.S. And insurance is readily available for anyone who wants it. But boating and shipping industry lobbyists in Washington have prevented any change in the law.
Hickey Law Firm’s work on fatal boat and PWC cases
Hickey Law Firm has represented the injured and the families of people who have died in numerous LOLA cases. For example, we represented some families of seaman who had worked on the cargo ship El Faro. El Faro sank in the middle of Hurricane Joaquin on October 1, 2015. The ship sailed right into the hurricane after the captain made errors of judgment about the storm and his ability to outrun it. The ship went down in the storm and took all 33 crewmembers with her. The ship was later found off the coast of The Bahamas in 11,000 feet of water. All of the claims by the families of the crew were settled in confidential settlements. According to Wikipedia, “By April 19, 2016, TOTE Maritime had settled with 18 of the 33 families for more than $7 million.”
Hickey Law Firm also has represented numerous people injured and killed on jet skis (personal watercraft). In one such case, a 40’ speed boat with 4 outboard engines with a combined horsepower of over 1,000 was speeding in broad daylight off of Tampa Bay in Tampa, Florida. The speedboat was driven or operated by a man who had been drinking and taking drugs on that day. He ran his huge speeding boat over the top of a man on a jet ski. The propellers of the speedboat severed the arm of and killed the jet skier. The lawyers for the insurance company for the owner and operator of that boat ran to Federal Court and filed a limitation of liability case. We represent the family of the man who was killed. We are pursuing his claims in the LOLA case in Federal Court. We will get permission from the Court to pursue the case in state court and will get a jury trial.
Hickey Law Firm also represents the family of a 12 year old girl who was killed while she was on a jet ski off of Ft. Myers, Florida. In that case, the Hyatt Hotel where the family was staying had recommended that they and others use a particular jet ski (personal watercraft) service or livery. The livery company rented out the jet skis and conducted tours of the area on jet skis. The guide who worked for the livery company lost track of at least one jet ski, the one with the little girl and her step-father. That jet ski followed orders and went into a channel where there was a lot of boat traffic and a lot of waves. The guide never waved the boat traffic away from his group and never advised the jet skiers where and how to go. This one jet ski with the little girl got tangled in mangroves and the little girl was hit in the head hard by a branch and later died of the injuries she got there. We have recovered from the jet ski company and are now pursuing claims against the hotel which recommended the jet ski company.
These claims are governed by maritime law. This is a specialized area. It involves the General Maritime Law of the United States, certain Federal Statutes, certain Rules of Admiralty in Federal Court, and law which is not the same as law on land.
In Florida, all lawyers are licensed and regulated by The Florida Bar, a creation of the Supreme Court of Florida. The Florida Bar has Board Certifications for lawyers who specialize in certain areas. Board Certification requires a grueling day long written examination, application, proof of significant experience and number of trials, and letters and references from judges and other lawyers who know the abilities of the applicant. Less than 1% of all lawyers in Florida are Board Certified. John H. (Jack) Hickey is one of a handful of lawyers in Florida who are double Board Certified; that is, he is Board Certified in two areas: Trials, and Admiralty & Maritime Law – the law which applies to any recreational boating case (where the boat was in navigable waters).
Hickey Law Firm has represented people in boating, Jet Ski, PWC and cruise ships claims over the last three decades. If you have questions about jet ski accidents, or want to learn more about Maritime Law claims, please call us in Miami or fill out our contact form. We serve injury clients throughout Florida.
Attorney John H. (Jack) Hickey and his team handle a wide range of cases, including but not limited to cruise ship accidents, admiralty and maritime accident cases, medical malpractice, wrongful death, premises liability, railroad accidents and car accidents. We represent victims from all over the nation, the world and the state of Florida.