A Florida Fish and Wildlife Investigator photographs the personal watercraft involved in the accident.
Photo credit: Devon Ravine, Northwest Florida Daily News.
A seventeen year old from Oklahoma is injured in a Florida boating accident. The Norman, Oklahoma high school student is now identified as Patrick Ahern, a prep cross country and soccer standout. He was visiting Florida and had apparently rented a personal watercraft when a boating accident changed his life forever.
According to media reports from the Northwest Florida Daily News website, the personal watercraft and a 38-foot craft clipped each other. The glancing blow resulted in Ahern being dragged into the larger boat’s propeller. He was listed in critical condition after having part of one of his lower legs amputated. He also sustained a serious head injury and requires ongoing medical care and treatment for that injury as well.
The accident is still under investigation. Initial reports are that both boat operators attempted to avoid the collision. However, just like a car accident, an accident usually does not take place if all parties do everything right, fully comply with the law, and exercise the care, caution, and rights of way required by statute. As the investigation progresses, investigators will attempt to find out the cause of the accident and question issues that surround the incident to determine who, if anyone, is at fault. It stands to reason that if both operators tried to avoid the accident, someone likely erred in judgment because two crafts should never have been close enough to each other to result in a collision on the open water.
Meanwhile, the 17-year old athlete is fighting for his life and was last reported to be in a northwest Florida hospital. While preventable, sadly, boating accidents like this are all too common. They can happen on the open ocean, on lakes, bays, canals, and rivers. We have talked in our blog at length about what duties cruise ship operators have to ensure their passenger’s safety. In this case, the focus will be what duties the operator of the larger vessel had to ensure the safety of other vessels, and what duties the injured had to ensure his own safety if he’s at fault in the accident. If it is established after the investigation that the operator of the larger boat breached his duties, the injured can argue that his damages are as a result of the negligence of the larger boat’s operator.
The damages would likely be quite substantial. The injury may affect the young man’s earning potential for the rest of his life. Medical bills have already accrued, and will continue to as his treatment is ongoing. Other items of damage include pain and suffering, disability, loss of enjoyment of life, mental anguish, and disfigurement.
This case presents many legal challenges that should only be addressed by an experienced maritime lawyer. For example, the personal watercraft owner – a jet ski or wave runner rental company – may file a proceeding to attempt to limit its liability to the value of the jet ski under a little known and antiquated law which allows for exoneration or limitation of liability by a vessel owner. If successful, the 17 year old victim would be limited to what is presumably a few thousand dollars in his recovery against the rental company. While there are defenses and exceptions to limitation of liability actions by a vessel’s owners – they are complicated and difficult and require extensive legal expertise and work to establish.
No one plans to be in an accident, on land or on the water. However, accidents don’t discriminate: Anyone can become injured as a result of someone else’s negligence. It’s important to take all possible safety precautions to keep yourself safe. If you are injured in an accident, it’s important to contact a boating accident lawyer. Our team has successfully handed thousands of cases since the founding of our practice in 1971. We are knowledgeable in not only maritime laws that govern vessels, their passengers, and crew, but also in personal injury law. Further, we are currently challenging several vessel owners’ claims to limit their liability to the value of their vessels. Our experience in this area enables us to ensure the maximum recovery under the law for our clients and to provide aggressive representation on behalf of the injured, preserving and enforcing their legal rights.