Florida’s many lakes, streams, and waterways – along with our Atlantic and Gulf coasts – offer some of the finest recreational opportunities on the planet. While recreation on the water is almost always enjoyable fun, there can also be a less pleasant side if you own a personal watercraft (PWC). Recklessness, intoxication, and bad weather can all cause serious injuries or an accidental fatality on a personal watercraft.
If you are injured in the state of Florida in a personal watercraft accident, you’ll want to speak at once with an experienced Orlando personal injury attorney. If a negligent PWC operator injures you, or if you are injured because of a PWC’s production defect or design flaw, you may be able to receive compensation for your medical expenses and more through a personal injury or product liability lawsuit.
Because they’re small, many people don’t think of PWCs as “real” boats and don’t see how they could cause any harm. However, PWCs are defined as vessels “less than 13 feet in length” by the U.S. Coast Guard, and they’re subject to the same laws and regulations as any other boat in Florida. According to the Coast Guard, personal watercrafts are involved in more crashes than any other type of boat. Those looking into why PWCs are involved in so many accidents will find several reasons:
- LACK OF EXPERIENCE
Because of their quirkiness, personal watercrafts actually require some special training and experience, so loaning your own personal watercraft to your teenager or to a friend may not be a good idea. The Coast Guard says that most personal watercraft accidents involve operators in the 11-to-20-year-old age group, yet only 18 percent of personal watercraft accidents involve owners.
In fact, it is the PWC owners’ siblings and friends who account for the vast majority of PWC accidents – 29 percent and 53 percent respectively. The National Transportation Safety Board says that approximately 84 percent of PWC accidents involve operators with no boating safety education whatsoever, and 48 percent of those injured had never or had only once previously operated a PWC.
- UNIQUE HANDLING FEATURES
PWCs are boats, but they don’t handle like other boats. Some PWC accidents are caused by the watercraft’s limited steering capacity. PWCs have no rudder, and most have no capacity for off-throttle steering. What often happens is that an inexpert operator will release the throttle to avoid another boat, a dock, or a person, and lose the ability to steer. Tapping the throttle restores the steering but increases the speed – and the damage in a collision. In some PWC collisions, the reportedly engine died and made steering impossible.
- LACK OF SAFETY PRECAUTIONS
Because personal watercrafts can make harder and faster turns than other boats, operators of PWCs must always use abundant caution. Passengers have sometimes been tossed from PWCs by sharp turns or by jumping a wake, and those passengers often suffer broken limbs, broken lips, and broken noses. Every state requires PWC operators and passengers to wear approved personal flotation devices. Wake jumping, even without falling off, is always dangerous, frequently injurious, and in most situations illegal.
- EXCESSIVE SPEED
Speeding is the cause of many PWC accidents. At the request of the Coast Guard, most manufacturers of personal watercrafts have voluntarily established a 65 miles-per-hour speed cap. Some companies that were not producing PWCs when that speed cap was established do not recognize it, but of course, speed is the operator’s responsibility. Excessive speed in a PWC is negligence.
Earlier this year, a speeding personal watercraft seriously injured a 4-year-old boy in Aventura, Florida, just north of Miami. Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission say a man was speeding through a canal in Aventura with the child seated in front of him. The child was thrown from the PWC when it crashed into a boat, and he suffered a broken eye socket. Luckily, the boy was wearing a flotation device.
In response to the potential dangers of PWCs and the disturbingly high number of serious accidents and catastrophic injuries, lawmakers in the state of Florida have established licensing requirements for anyone who intends to operate a personal watercraft. Of course, the Florida laws that prohibit operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs apply to operating PWCs as well.
HOW CAN PERSONAL WATERCRAFT ACCIDENTS BE PREVENTED?
Don’t let anyone borrow your PWC who does not have PWC operating experience, basic boating experience, and the proper license issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. You must have a Florida Boater Education I.D. Card to operate any motorized watercraft of 10 horsepower or more in this state. Beginners should keep their distance from other boat traffic, since most PWC accidents are collisions with other vessels.
If you are injured by a PWC operator’s negligent actions such as speeding, operating under the influence, or ignoring the safety rules, speak with an experienced Orlando personal injury attorney about your legal recourse. If you’ve been injured by negligence in Florida – and you can prove it – the law in this state entitles you to complete compensation for all of your medical expenses and all of your lost wages. If your injury is disabling or requires a lengthy recovery, you’re also entitled to future medical expenses and compensation for lost earning capacity.
Similarly, if you are a PWC operator or passenger who is injured because of a PWC design flaw or manufacturing defect, you are entitled to the same complete reimbursement. However, you’ll have to prove the flaw or defect that you’re claiming, and you’ll have to show the direct link between that flaw or defect and your injury. You’ll need the help of a good product liability lawyer.
Unlike most of the other states, Florida offers its residents and visitors the opportunity to enjoy their favorite outdoor recreational activities twelve months a year. Florida has more than 11,000 miles of rivers, streams, and waterways, more than a thousand miles of coastline, and more than seven thousand lakes greater than ten acres in size. Thousands of our residents moved to Florida from other states precisely for the weather and the water. Always use caution on the water and particularly when you operate a personal watercraft. PWC accidents are preventable. With a little caution on your side, fun on the water doesn’t have to turn tragic.