Boating accidents in Florida often raise a number of complicated issues related to the law of the sea, including those concerning liability for an injuries caused. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida recently took on a case centering on precisely this topic: In the matter of Everglades Island Boat Tours.
As its name suggests, Everglades Island Boat Tours operates airboat sightseeing tours and operates out of Everglades City in Collier County. Ms. Sweeny alleged that she was injured while a passenger aboard one of the company’s boats in November 2011. While the circumstances surrounding the accident were not clear, the court said the boat was being operated by an EIBT employee when it happened.
Seeking to limit its liability for any damages to which Sweeny may be entitled as a result of her injury, the company filed an action in federal district court, asking the Middle District to rule that EIBT can’t be ordered to pay damages in excess of the value of the boat on which the accident allegedly occurred. The Limitation of Shipowners’ Liability Act, codified at 46 U.S.C. Section 30511, provides that a shipowner’s liability for any losses that happen aboard it “without the knowledge or privity of the owner” may be limited to the value of the boat and any freight on it.
Courts will typically find that the owner had “knowledge or privity” where the owner failed to properly maintain the vessel, including by staffing it with an unseaworthy crew or neglecting to provide proper navigational aides.
“Under the Limitation of Liability Act and the Supplemental Rules, a federal district court stays all related claims against a shipowner pending in any forum, and requires all claimants to assert their claims in the limitation court,” a federal magistrate judge explained, noting that federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over maritime lawsuits.
Here, EBIT had the boat appraised at a value of $18,000 and offered to deposit six percent interest (more than 2,100) in the court’s registry. It also claimed that it had no knowledge of the boat being in a dangerous or unsafe condition prior to the accident. The magistrate judge reviewing the matter recommended that the district court approve the company’s petition and require it to produce the entire $18,000 , plus interest, as a security deposit. The judge also said that Sweeny and other parties could later contest the actual value of the boat and ordered that any other related lawsuits be stayed pending the outcome of the litigation in the Middle District.
While this is an important ruling that may very well limit any recovery Sweeny obtains for her injuries from EIBT, it’s important to note that there may be other responsible parties from whom she can also seek damages. That includes the employee who operated the boat and the manufacturers and designers of any faulty equipment that may have played a role in the accident.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a boating accident, contact the South Florida boat accident lawyers at Anidjar & Levine. Representing clients throughout the region, we pride ourselves on providing responsive, diligent and cost-effective representation. Please take advantage of a free consultation offered by contacting the firm’s Fort Lauderdale offices at 800-747-3733 or online.
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