Can You Sue the Owner of a Boat in Florida if the Captain Caused the Accident?

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Boat accidents can involve many types of boats. Some of these boats will be speed boats operated by their owners, while others will be rented. Many boats involved in crashes are commercial fishing boats, tour boats, yachts, or ferries that could be piloted by their owner or a captain hired to operate the boat. In many cases, the owner is a company, not a private individual. If the boat’s captain or driver caused the crash, can you hold the owner of the boat liable – especially since they let a dangerous captain be in charge of the vessel? The Miami boat accident lawyers at Rivkind Margulies & Rivkind, P.A. explain.

Who Do You Sue for a Boat Accident in Florida? The Owner or the Captain?

In most injury cases, the main person that you want to file your injury lawsuit against is the individual who was actually responsible for the accident. The individual in charge of the boat’s operations (the captain or skipper) might be responsible, or the person physically steering the boat (the operator or pilot) could have been the one to do something wrong. In other cases, accidents caused by improper boat maintenance or unseaworthiness will be the owner’s fault.

Suing the Operator/Driver

In cases where the owner was the one who was operating the boat, they are usually directly liable for their own actions. This means that you can sue a speed boat owner who crashed into your boat or caused a jet ski accident because they are the sole person responsible for the crash. But what about when the owner and operator are different people?

If the captain, the skipper, the pilot, or another operator or crewmember was responsible for a boat accident in Florida, you can sue that individual directly for their individual fault. However, you might also be able to sue the owner of the boat.

Suing the Owner

As mentioned, the owner can be held responsible if there were upkeep or maintenance issues with the vessel. This could come up in cases where the boat is owned by a rental company, but it wasn’t safe to put out on the water.

Alternatively, the owner of a boat can often be held liable as the pilot or captain’s employer. Ferry operators, helmsmen, yacht pilots, and other people responsible for steering or captaining a boat or ship are often hired by the owner. In cases where a commercial company owns the vessel, you can often hold their negligent captain or pilot responsible, but you can also sue the boat owner for their share of the fault.

If a boat owner let a friend or inexperienced child or family member drive, that boat owner could also be partly liable for putting an inexperienced operator at the controls.

Filing a Lawsuit against a Boat Captain’s Employer in Florida

When the captain or pilot of a boat causes the crash, but they work for the person or company who owns the vessel, you can usually sue that owner alongside the responsible seaman. The boat or ship’s owner is usually responsible in two ways: either because of their own share of fault in the accident or because of Florida’s “respondeat superior” and vicarious liability rules.

Partial Fault for Negligent Boat Owners

You can hold a boat’s owner partly responsible for their own share of negligence in causing a boat accident. The following situations show common ways that a boat owner might share liability in a crash:

  • The owner was present on the boat at the time of the accident and gave negligent orders or instructions that contributed to the accident.
  • The owner failed to maintain the vessel or keep the boat in a safe condition, contributing to the crash.
  • The owner negligently hired a dangerous operator to pilot their boat or allowed a drunk or dangerous boater to drive.

Vicarious Liability for Boat Owners

If the owner was not negligent in any of these ways, you can still usually hold them accountable under Florida’s vicarious liability rules. The principle of “respondeat superior” says that an employer can be sued for the negligence of its employer.

One common way that this happens is when commercial boat operators and pilots cause accidents. Shipping accidents, ferry accidents, tour boat accidents, commercial fishing accidents, water taxi accidents, and other accidents could be held against the companies that operate these boats.

Similarly, yacht owners and other owners of private boats and sailboats can often be held liable for the crashes their hired workers cause. In some cases, the staff or crew on a private boat might be supplied by a staffing company instead of working directly for the yacht owner. Our attorneys can help you determine whether you should sue the individual owner of the vessel or the staffing company or both.

Holding a Boat Owner Accountable for Damages in a Florida Boat Crash

When you sue for damages, you can often claim compensation for any damages related to the accident. Some boat owners and operators will have insurance that helps to cover damages, but these damages might fall short of what you actually deserve. Talk to a lawyer about what your case might be worth and what damages to claim.

When you claim damages, you should at least seek compensation for property damage, medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Determining the values of these damages can be difficult, but financial records and projections of future costs can be used to determine how much you should claim in your boat accident lawsuit.

Call Our Florida Boat Accident Lawyer for a Free Case Consultation

If you were injured in an accident on a boat or ship in the Miami area or anywhere in Florida waters, call our maritime accident and injury lawyers at Rivkind Margulies & Rivkind, P.A. Our lawyers have decades of experience handling boat and ship injury cases. Call us today at (305) 204-5369 to schedule a free case consultation and to determine who you can hold responsible for the injuries you faced.

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