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What is the First Thing You Do After a Boating Accident in Florida?

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Knowing what to do after a boating accident can help you get emergency rescue services faster, get medical treatment faster, and help secure the information you need to later file an insurance claim or lawsuit for injuries and boat damage.  The Florida boating accident lawyer at Rivkind Margulies & Rivkind, P.A. have been handling boat accident cases for decades, and we are here to explain what steps to take after a boat accident to keep yourself and your passengers safe while protecting your potential right to sue.

Steps to Take After a Boating Accident in Florida

Quick action is sometimes necessary after a boating accident.  If people are in danger, emergency services might be necessary to help get everyone safe.  Sometimes, getting to a hospital quickly is vital to your care.  All the while, keeping an eye on the future of your accident case can help set you up for success in a lawsuit.  Because of these factors, our Pensacola boating injury lawyers suggest taking the following steps after a boat accident:

Call Emergency Services

Calling 9-1-1 is one of the first things to do after any sort of accident or emergency.  Especially if people are in danger and need assistance from the Coast Guard or other local emergency patrols, calling 9-1-1 is usually the best way to get them there.  If you don’t have a phone but can radio for help, that works too.

If no one on your boat happens to have a phone with them, see if anyone on the other boat can call for help.  If no one can, you may have to leave the area where the accident happened in order to get help, but this is not recommended if you have serious injuries or a damaged vessel.

Especially if the accident happened at night, flare guns and other distress notifications are designed for this kind of situation.  Use them if you have them, especially if someone’s life or safety might depend on it.

Take Pictures of the Accident

If you have a camera available, take pictures of the accident scene if you can.  Seeing how two boats collided or how your boat struck a stationary object can help show the jury the extent of the injuries and potentially give them information they need to decide who is at fault.  Often, taking pictures of the accident right after it happened will be less important, and taking pictures of the damage and injuries later could be okay.  However, you should still get as much documentation and proof as you can regarding what happened and what damages resulted.

Get Medical Help

Once you leave the scene of the accident, you may not be able to go back and take pictures or gather information later, as the vessels will have been moved and any debris or damaged parts may have floated away, sunk, or been cleaned up.  However, the chance to get medical treatment for injuries is always more important than the chance to collect evidence.  If you were injured, contact emergency services and get the medical attention you need, even if that means being evacuated by helicopter or boat.  Any delay in seeking medical attention could result in worsened conditions – and sometimes the delay is longer than expected when you need to get from the water to the nearest hospital.

Ask for Information from Others

If you were involved in an accident involving two or more boats or your boat crashed into a stationary object, you need to get the information of the other people and property owners involved in the accident.  If you were the driver of a boat that was hit, it is important to know who owns the boat who hit you and who was operating it so that you can later hold them responsible for the damages you faced.  If you were a passenger, it is important to know who was driving the boat and who they work for, especially if you were injured in a ferry accident, a party boat accident, or some other kind of accident.

If you work on a commercial boat, such as a fishing boat or shipping barge, you may have forms for your employer to fill out that detail who everyone involved in the accident was and what vessels were involved.  If you were injured at work in an accident with another boat, you could be entitled to sue the operator who hit you (or the company they work for) with the the help of our  attorneys.

How to Handle the Aftermath of Boating Accidents in Florida

Boating accidents can be stressful, and everyone’s tensions may be high after an accident.  Often, adrenaline will mask mild or even severe injuries, potentially leading you to think you are in a better state than you are.  You could also be angry at the operator who caused the accident, especially if you suffered injuries because of their negligence.

It is important to remember that others are feeling the same way.  Call for the police or the Coast Guard and allow them to handle any potentially drunk or belligerent individuals.  Trust in the EMTs and other emergency responders who may have a better idea about how severe your injuries are since.  After that, trust in a Miami boating accident lawyer rather than trying to fight for compensation on your own without the experience and training to fight insurance companies and negligent boat operators.

When Do You Need to Report a Boating Accident in Florida?

If you’re involved in a boating accident that harms an individual or an individual’s property, you almost certainly have to report it. 

Under Florida Law 327.301, you must make a written boating accident under the following circumstances:

  • A boat worth at least $2,000 is damaged (or multiple boats)
  • Damage of at least $2,000 of other personal property 
  • Someone is injured to the extent of requiring more than first aid
  • Someone disappears following the accident
  • Someone dies as a result of the incident 

This applies to a wide range of boating accidents, including capsizing, sinking, boats striking other objects, collisions between two or more boats, and accidents caused by the weather or dangerous driving. If there’s any doubt in your mind about whether the above criteria applies, it’s still best to file a report to be safe.

Whatever you do, don’t delay in taking action — according to Florida Law 327.1, you must file a report as soon as possible. Plus, under federal law, you have a timeframe of 48 hours for filing a report if someone is harmed, although this increases to 10 days if only property is damaged or there’s a casualty 24 hours after (which was caused by the accident).

Note that filing an accident report alone isn’t enough to make you eligible for a lawsuit or to claim compensation down the line, although it can form part of the evidence. More on this shortly.

Are Boat Operators Required by Law to Do Anything When Involved in a Boat Crash in Florida?

Both federal and Florida laws require boat operators to contact law enforcement about an accident as quickly as possible. However, their responsibilities don’t end there.

According to the Florida Revised Statutes 327.30 Vessel Safety, a driver must let law enforcement know about the accident and exchange information with any boat passengers or other individuals involved in the accident (including providing their address and vessel identification number). 

Plus, they should stay at the scene until everything has been appropriately handled. Another aspect of Florida Law 327.3 states that leaving the accident scene without reporting is a felony. Depending on the nature of the accident (i.e., if it involves property damage versus injuring someone), they could face a fine or even prison for failing to comply. However, if remaining at the scene of the accident could put anyone in danger, they should move the boat away to a safer area and remain there.

As for additional responsibilities, boat operators must also administer first aid to anyone who was injured from the accident, so they should have a first aid kit at the ready in their boat. They should also check that all passengers are okay.

If the boating accident involved an unattended vessel and the operator doesn’t know who it belongs to, they must still do everything they reasonably can to find out and let the owner know what’s happening. 

They should also check the integrity of their boat after the accident, such as checking if fuel is leaking, the boat has holes, or electrical wires are exposed.

What Entity Should You Contact Following a Boating Accident in Florida?

In most cases, the first port of call following a boating accident will be the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Alternatively, you can contact the sheriff of the county or the police municipality police department (in the area where the accident happens). It’s a legal requirement to contact one of these parties if the boating accident meets the criteria outlined previously. 

These organizations will ask you if you need to file a written boating accident report, then guide you through the process and let you know where you can find all the necessary information. Law enforcement will then file a police report on your behalf, and they may interview witnesses or examine damage; this can result in criminal charges under certain circumstances.

You may also have to file with the U.S. Coast Guard, which takes the form of a CG-3865 Recreational Boating Accident Report. The form requires information about the vessels and parties involved, and aims to understand potential causes for the incident.

It should also go without saying that, if there’s a serious emergency (such as a casualty), you should call 911 first before filing a report.

If You Were in a Boating Accident in Florida, Our Attorneys Can Help

If you were injured as a result of a boating accident, you may also be eligible for financial compensation — especially if the accident was due to the reckless actions of someone else. This money can compensate for mental anguish, medical treatment, and lost earning opportunities due to the accident. 

However, if this is the case, it’s best to do more than simply fill out a standard accident form. You may also want to file a report with multiple entities to give you the best chance of filing a successful claim early on, and it’s advisable to consult with a lawyer straightaway to ensure you’re following the correct procedures. They can guide you through the process and ensure you file the right reports.

While the first call you make after a boating accident should be 9-1-1, soon after, you should call Rivkind Margulies & Rivkind, P.A. at (866) 386-1762.  Our Miami boating accident attorneys are available for free legal consultations to help victims understand their options after a boating accident and work to help victims get the compensation they need.

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