Articles Posted in boating accidents

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1158220_39704248.jpgA national health care advocacy organization, the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), recently released a report on injury-related deaths in all fifty states and the District of Columbia, entitled “The Facts Hurt: A State-By-State Injury Prevention Policy Report.” TFAH identified ten “key indicators” of injury prevention in state laws and regulations. The study ranked the states and D.C. based on the number of key indicators present, and it also ranked them based on the rate of deaths per 100,000 people. Florida ranked near the middle on both scales, with only six of the ten key indicators. The state’s annual rate of 66.8 injury-related deaths gives it the eighteenth-highest rate in the country.

Injuries account for over 180,000 deaths each year, according to the study. Among people between the ages of one and forty-four years, injuries are the leading cause of death. Injuries account for nearly 90,000 deaths in that age group, compared to 50,000 for non-communicable disease and less than 10,000 for communicable disease. The study divides injuries into categories, including falls, blunt force injuries, gunshot wounds, cuts or puncture wounds, burns, poisoning, vehicular injuries, and drowning or suffocation. In all, the lifetime costs of injuries, which includes not only immediately medical expenses but also the ongoing cost of care, lost income, and lost productivity, exceed $406 billion per year.

New Mexico has the highest overall injury-related death rate, according to TFAH, with 97.8 deaths per 100,000. New Jersey has the lowest rate at 36.1. Florida is just behind Colorado’s 67.8 and ahead of North Carolina’s 66. TFAH states in its report that it cannot say with certainty why one state has a lower or higher injury-related death rate than another state, but that its list of “key indicators” can offer states guidance on how to effectively prevent injuries.

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As a Pompano Beach boating accident attorney, I was sorry to read about an accident that left a teenager in critical condition. As the Palm Beach Post reported Feb. 8, 14-year-old Gabby Desouza was scheduled to have her leg amputated that day after it was caught in a boat’s propeller. Desouza was hurt after she and several friends ran into the surf in Juno Beach to meet a boat. The boat’s operator apparently advanced too close to the teens and hit three of them. Desouza had the only reported serious injuries and was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, where she was initially reported in critical but stable condition. The Palm Beach County sheriff’s department is investigating.

According to an earlier article, Desouza and her friends were in shallow water on the afternoon of Feb. 5 when a boat approached, apparently with friends of the teens on board. Lifeguards repeatedly asked the boater to leave the swimming area, but with no effect. As the girls tried to get into the boat, a wave washed it closer to the shore. A bigger wave approached, and to keep from being grounded, the boater apparently revved the engine. Unfortunately, that pushed the boat forward into the girls, knocking them down and catching Desouza in the propeller. Her friends rushed her to shore to get medical help from lifeguards and the boat sped away. Authorities later found the boat at the Crab House in Jupiter, impounded it and detained two people believed to have been on board for questioning.

It’s not clear whether the boater in this case has broken any laws; the sheriff’s office will make that determination. But as a Miramar boating accident lawyer, I think it’s likely that the boat operator was negligent, regardless of whether he or she broke the law. Negligence is a concept in civil – not criminal – law, meaning failure in the duty to take reasonable care that we all owe one another. Not heeding the lifeguards’ repeated requests to get out of the swimming area was probably negligent. If the boat operator broke boating rules by being in the swimming area, which seems likely, that would also be negligent. Victims of negligence can recover damages when the negligence leads to serious injuries, as in this situation, but they have to sue rather than rely on prosecutors.

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As a Fort Lauderdale boating accident attorney, I was very interested to read about a proposed state law aimed at increasing the safety of parasailing. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Jan. 19, the Florida Legislature is considering the Alejandra White Act, a bill named in honor of an Atlanta-area woman who died from injuries suffered on vacation in Clearwater Beach. White and her fiance, Shaun Ladd, were on a parasailing expedition when the rope connecting them to the boat towing them snapped, leading to a crash that killed White. The bill, which is expected to be introduced in the legislative session starting March 8, would have a provision requiring quick-release harnesses, among other things.

Parasailing, a popular tourist activity in Florida, puts riders in seats attached to a parachute. The seats are connected by ropes to boats that tow them in the air. White and Ladd were visiting the Tampa area over Labor Day weekend of 2010 when their rope snapped. Ladd was able to get out of the harness and drop into the ocean, where he was not seriously injured. But White couldn’t get out of the harness and was blown onto shore, where she hit several umbrellas before being impaled on a volleyball pole. She died six days later. The parasailing industry is completely unregulated in Florida and under federal law, MyFox Tampa Bay reported. In addition to the quick-release harness, the proposed law would require operators to carry insurance, keep operators at least 1,800 feet offshore, set standard for unsafe weather and require tow ropes of no more than 800 feet.

As a Hollywood boating accident lawyer, I’m very much in favor of this law. While parasailing accidents like this one are fortunately not common, that doesn’t mean there’s no need to keep parasailers safe. No one wants to (or ought to) die on vacation, and the Florida tourist industry hardly wants a reputation for being deadly. A change as simple as a quick-release harness could have turned White’s deadly accident into a scary but survivable experience. And to ensure that everyone is protected, it makes sense to require such a harness from every parasailing business. Most of the other provisions of the bill listed also seem to be attempts to increase safety. The insurance provision, however, is likely an attempt to address the sad question of what happens when there is an accident. One successful lawsuit could bankrupt a small business, so the required insurance would protect those businesses while ensuring that any victims are able to get fair financial compensation.

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As a Pembroke Pines cruise ship accident lawyer, I was interested to see a report of a disruption on a cruise ship caused by a communicable virus. As WTSP in Tampa reported Jan. 9, the Radiance of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise liner, suffered an outbreak of norovirus during a five-day cruise to Cozumel and Costa Maya in Mexico. Norovirus is a gastrointestinal illness causing vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. The report didn’t say how many people on the ship fell ill, but one passenger estimated that it was “hundreds” out of a total capacity of 2,500 passengers. The ship was held in Tampa for an extra five hours for an extra thorough cleaning, the report said, and Royal Caribbean asked passengers to consider rescheduling if they hadn’t been feeling well.

Norovirus is actually a group of viruses that are the most common cause of gastroenteritis — more commonly known as stomach flu. It is highly contagious and notorious for causing outbreaks in semi-closed institutions like college dorms or nursing homes. According to passengers interviewed by WTSP, the viral outbreak had passengers throwing up in bathrooms throughout the ship. One passenger said she was “out of it” for three of her five days on board. Royal Caribbean took precautions, some passengers said, such as offering free medical care, sanitizing surfaces and taking away potentially infectious objects like menus and salt shakers. But other passengers said the company was not responsive enough to passengers whose vacations were disrupted.

I hope Royal Caribbean did everything it could to control the outbreak, because as a Fort Lauderdale cruise ship accident attorney, I know how nasty norovirus can be. Because norovirus is highly infectious, it’s essential for potential outbreak centers — such as cruise ships — to take aggressive steps to stop the spread. That means staff members must (and passengers should be encouraged to) wash their hands thoroughly after the bathroom, before preparing food and any other time they have infectious potential. Areas of the ship, clothes and linens that were infected (for example, by a vomiting episode) should be cleaned and disinfected as soon as possible. Failure to do this falls short of the best medical practices for stopping an outbreak and could expose Royal Caribbean to a cruise ship lawsuit.

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As a Broward County boating accident attorney, I was disappointed to see an article about a serious crash between two boats in Biscayne Bay. The Miami Herald reported Nov. 29 on the crash, which took place that day just after 1 p.m. Witnesses told the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission that both 30-foot-plus vessels were speeding, although it wasn’t clear how they came to collide. As a result of the crash, however, one man was airlifted to a trauma center and two others died at the scene. One of those who died was Steven Posner, a wealthy real estate investor whose family has been in the news for its battles over inheritance of large estates. Another victim was Posner’s cousin Stuart Posner, who was injured.

The initial crash threw at least some of the people on board the boats into the water east of Matheson Hammock Marina. Nearby boats saw the collision and called for help. A Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue boat responded. Rescue crews used the boat as a staging ground for the critically injured victim, who had to be lifted in a basket into the helicopter, which took him to the Ryder Trauma Center. Another victim suffered minor injuries and was taken by land to another hospital. The spokesman for the FWCC described the crash as “horrific.” He said it wasn’t clear whether all of the seriously injured people came from the same boat, but did say that all of the people aboard both boats had been accounted for. He also said autopsies would be performed.

Even without the business celebrity aspect, this story would have caught my eye as a Hialeah boat accident lawyer because it’s highly likely that some negligence was involved. In fact, if witnesses are correct that both boaters were speeding, both parties may be partly to blame for the crash. Many people in Florida don’t see boating as an activity requiring safety precautions, but it absolutely is. Just like cars, boats are (usually) motor vehicles capable of speeds fast enough to reduce reaction times to an unsafe level. And unlike cars, boats don’t usually have designated lanes or lane markings, meaning they can be less predictable and wander out of their intended paths more easily. That’s why the FWCC pushes boating safety so hard — including warnings against speeding as well as warnings about boating under the influence and the importance of life vests.

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As a Miramar boating accident attorney, I know Florida typically leads the nation in sheer number of boating accidents, avoidable tragedies that affect both our own citizens and our tourists. That’s why I was pleased to see an Oct. 16 article in the Tallahassee Democrat saying that younger boaters in Florida will soon be required to pass a safety course before they can hit the water. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is responsible for regulating recreational boating in our state, made the rule effective Jan. 1, 2010. The FWC also lowered the threshold for an enhanced penalty for boating under the influence to match the DUI threshold of 0.15%.

Under the new requirement, any boater 21 or younger must take an approved safety course to legally operate a boat. They then have 90 days to submit their certificates of completion to receive the boating safety ID card. The requirement expands on an existing boating safety course requirement that applies to people who have committed certain boating infractions or crimes. It also puts Florida in the company of in 41 other states that require boating safety education for at least some boaters, including neighboring Georgia and South Carolina. The Democrat quoted a FWC official saying that boating registrations are increasing in Florida, adding to about a million registered vessels in the state and increasing the need for safety training.

As a Hallandale Beach boating accident lawyer, I’m very pleased that the FWC has taken this step, although I would prefer that the requirement apply to boaters of all ages. The FWC’s accident statistics for 2008, the most recent report available, said that 73% of all boating accidents and 93% of fatal accidents involved boat operators with no boating education. Those statistics make a strong case that training matters. Furthermore, the majority of boats involved in accidents are motor vehicles just like cars and trucks — but often even bigger. Most of us wouldn’t dream of allowing unlicensed, untrained drivers on the roads, particularly child drivers. The same should be true on the water, where there are no marked lanes and boat operators may be more likely to drink.

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The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a former seaman injured on the job may sue his ex-employer for refusing to pay his medical bills and maintenance, the Florida Times-Union reported June 26. The ruling means that Eddie Townsend may continue his lawsuit against former employer Atlantic Sounding, including a claim for punitive damages intended to punish serious wrongdoing. In the 5-4 decision, the majority wrote that the Jones Act, which allows people injured in maritime jobs to sue their employers for medical care and replacement wages, allows punitive damages when employers show “willful and wanton disregard” for their obligations.

Townsend was working on a tugboat at the port of Fort Lauderdale when a fallen line knocked him to the deck, breaking his shoulder. When he told his supervisor, he was told he would be fired if he reported the injury. He tried to work the next day but couldn’t, so he reported his injury anyway — and was fired, just as predicted. His employer, Atlantic Sounding, refused to pay his medical bills or maintenance while he recovered, on the grounds that he had left the boat. (Most Florida employers must offer both of these benefits through the Florida workers’ compensation system.) With no health insurance, he wound up living in his car in North Florida. Eventually, he sued Atlantic Sounding.

The Jones Act, formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a form of workers’ compensation for sailors and others who work in navigable waters. It allows seamen like Townsend, who were injured at work, to sue employers whose carelessness caused or contributed to the accident. All such claimants can claim money to pay their medical bills and living expenses while they cannot work. Federal appeals courts had split over whether they could also claim punitive damages — payments intended to punish and deter lawbreaking — in cases involving injuries and maintenance pay. The Supreme Court resolved that split with last week’s ruling, saying they can.

As a Fort Lauderdale boating accident attorney, I am delighted with this ruling. Firing someone for reporting an accident literally adds insult to injury, and Atlantic Sounding’s actions would have been illegal for most Florida employers. That makes this case extremely appropriate for punitive damages. Thanks to this ruling, Townsend can claim the true cost of his injuries — not just the medical care and reduced wages that would have allowed him to make ends meet while he recovered, but damages for his wrongful firing and the troubles he faced afterward. The ruling doesn’t necessarily mean that Townsend will win his case or collect a large amount of money, but it means that if he does win, he will be able to claim fuller, more appropriate compensation that recognizes Atlantic Sounding’s serious wrongdoing.

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A trial has begun in Naples in a lawsuit alleging that design defects were responsible for a woman’s disabling and disfiguring injuries, the Naples Daily News reported June 8. Audrey Decker, 64, and her husband, 66-year-old Fred Decker, are suing boat engine manufacturer Boston Whaler over a 1999 accident in which Audrey Decker fell overboard, sustaining serious injuries when her body became entangled with the boat’s propeller. The case was contentious, with the judge in the case repeatedly warning defense attorneys that they would be penalized if they continued to reargue settled issues or personally attack the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Fred Decker was cited for careless operation of his boat that day, with alcohol involvement, but no charges were filed. However, the Deckers’ claim is a South Florida products liability lawsuit, which means that the reason Audrey Decker fell overboard isn’t being disputed. Instead, the couple alleges that the boat was defectively designed because manufacturers didn’t include a propeller guard, an inexpensive part that keeps objects out of the path of the propeller’s sharp blades. The judge ruled that the case is about the “crashworthiness” of the boat — meaning that, because boating accidents are foreseeable, the question is whether the manufacturer did enough to forestall serious injuries in accidents.

A June 6 article from the Daily News details the injuries Audrey Decker suffered in the accident. She lost her left eye, her left breast and part of her nose and lip in the accident. Doctors saved her left arm, but it’s heavily scarred and the slightest touch causes her pain because of nerve damage. Her face is heavily scarred and disfigured by the loss of fat and bone. She has had 40 operations since the accident, but children and adults still stare sometimes, making her reluctant to leave the house. She takes pain medication regularly and needs help performing household tasks. She can no longer work, and the Deckers sold their home to pay some of her medical bills, living in a trailer for two years before they could afford another.

The Daily News cited federal statistics saying Americans had 80 accidents with boat propellers in 2007, causing seven deaths and 75 injuries. As a Pompano Beach boating accident lawyer, I know that’s a tiny fraction of boating accidents — the U.S. Coast Guard reported 685 deaths from recreational boating in the same year. The same report said 485 people fell overboard from any cause, suggesting that it’s easy for boating companies and boat parts manufacturers to anticipate falling-overboard accidents. As with all manufacturers in Florida, these boating manufacturers are legally obligated to design products that don’t pose an unreasonable risk, including a risk from a foreseeable accident. If they fail in that duty, victims have the right to hold them responsible for the results with a Miami-Dade product defects lawsuit.

If you or someone you love was seriously hurt in South Florida by flaws in any consumer product, you have the right to hold the manufacturer legally liable for the results. That includes design flaws, manufacturing problems and failure by the manufacturer to warn you about the dangers of using the product. Cohn, Smith & Cohn can help. Our Cape Coral defective product lawyers have more than 25 years of experience helping Floridians get justice after a serious accident. We can help victims win the money they need to pay medical bills; make ends meet while they cannot work; and compensate them for the painful and sometimes lifelong effects of a serious injury.

Our Davie product defect attorneys offer free, confidential consultations to all potential clients. To set one up, please call our main Hollywood office at (954) 431-8100 or contact us online today.

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