Here in Miami, it’s pretty common for weather to go haywire. More often than not, our city gets inundated with several inches of rain from one of our many weekly showers and thunderstorms. But while we are certainly used to the frequent, sudden shifts in weather, that doesn’t mean we can always safely maneuver around a storm. Even the most experienced and prudent of motorists can lose control of their vehicles in the blink of an eye and sustain life-threatening injuries. The same goes for boaters, barge operators and cruise ship operators.
In actually, inclement weather can be even more dangerous for persons out at sea than for those on busy roadways for several reasons. For one, when a bad storm hits and you’re out on the road, you can pull over to a safe area and wait for the storm to pass or take shelter under an overhang or inside a garage. Of course, there are times when a motorist can lose control of their vehicle due to the slippery roadways or break failure and the vehicle can skid and collide with other vehicles, pedestrians or non-moving objects. These tragedies can happen through no fault of the driver and are solely the result of compounding weather-related factors.
Imagine now, how much worse it would be out at sea. At the very least, drivers can attempt to pull over as quickly as possible, and even if tragedy does strike, emergency responders can be called to assist right away. But for those out at sea, help is not something that is very readily available.
While out at sea, the only real defense against the imminent dangers of a storm is basically a lifejacket. Once weather conditions begin to deteriorate, boaters and ship operators will have to move quickly to prepare. When in the face of a real threat of harm, a mayday call can be sent out as a precaution to alert vessels in the near vicinity that danger might be approaching so the vessel’s coordinates can be established in the event of an accident. But when weather changes quickly, this may not even be an option.
A sudden weather shift can impede visibility out at sea drastically. As bad as it is when a storm hits on land, at least most areas where traffic is common have light posts that will help illuminate the path for drivers. For boaters and ship operators, all they have is their own vessel’s light most of the time, which doesn’t offer much safety especially because it can go out. There’s no real place to seek shelter if you are several miles out in the open waters. There’s no way to just pull over. Rain can mar visibility and lead the vessel to crash and extremely choppy waves can damage a vessel – even a large cruise ship. If powerful enough, a single wave can cause extreme damage to a cruise ship or cargo vessel to the point that windows can shatter and sails can break. Waves can crash upon a vessel and inundate lower decks, making it impossible for passengers to escape. And even if emergency crews are contacted before someone is fatally injured, it can be hours before anyone arrives to offer assistance.
Once an accident does occur in the middle of a storm, those onboard a vessel can become severely injured and may even lose consciousness. At this point, a lifejacket is truly the only hope for survival. A lifejacket can keep a victim afloat when they are unable to swim or have suffered debilitating injuries or loss of consciousness. Alas, there are times when a storm’s effects are unfortunately just too severe.
Once tragedy strikes, accident survivors and the loved ones of the deceased often contact maritime lawyers to determine whether or not they have a viable case. Usually, when an accident at sea is caused by someone’s negligent actions, such as speeding or boating under the influence (BUI), a case can be established. An attorney well-versed in maritime laws can investigate the incident and determine whether any parties were guilty of negligence or a crime. Once evidence is provided and a case for negligence is successfully argued, victims may be able to obtain compensation.
However, some accidents are not as clear cut. Even in cases where it’s blatantly obvious that an accident resulted from reckless behavior like intoxication or speeding, it can still be difficult to establish fault. So what happens when an accident is caused by unfavorable weather? Can maritime lawyers establish a case for victims?
The answer to that question can be just as complex as the nature of swiftly-changing weather patterns. There are ways to argue any kind of case, which is why it is imperative that maritime accident victims seek legal help – whether they think they have a viable claim or not. There are numerous times when a weather-related accident at sea can be argued in court and for which victims can claim compensation.
Check out part 2 of our blog to find out which types of weather-related maritime accidents can be fought in court.
Published on August 28, 2014
Categories: Maritime Matter of the Week