Who Is Liable in an Accident with a Rented Jet Ski?
Being able to enjoy swimming and playing in the water that surrounds Florida for most of the year is one of the perks of living here, and a big draw for tourists who come to the state intending to fully partake in all the water activities available to them. And, there is a wide variety of things to choose from – parasailing, boat rentals, jet skis, and boat tours – to name just a few, and all pose a fair amount of risk to the participants and anyone else on the water or in the vicinity. In fact, there were over 600 boat accidents in 2014, the year with the most recent available data. The vast majority of people who take part in these activities understand and acknowledge the inherent risk involved, and are willing to accept some responsibility if something goes wrong. But, if someone does gets injured in this situation, who is liable – just the person who directly caused the harm or the rental company that gave him/her the keys? The widow of man killed when his rented wave runner collided with a small boat in the Panhandle community of Grand Lagoon filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the tour operator, marina, water equipment rental company, and the driver of the boat, seeking to hold them liable for her husband’s death.
Watercraft rental outfitters typically require all their customers to sign liability waivers that say the customer is assuming all risk associated with using and/or participating in the water activity and absolving the operator from any liability for injury or death. While Florida courts will enforce these agreements, they are not viewed as very beneficial to public policy, and consequently, will strictly construe the language of the waiver against the company who drafted it. In addition, a person is only held to assume known risks, or those a person would reasonably expect to encounter in this type of situation. Thus, for example, if the rental operator did not inform customers about the presence of sharks in certain area, and this area was listed as a place renters could take their equipment, the operator would likely be responsible if a customer was injured as a result.
Negligence is the most commonly used legal theory to hold a party liable, and in the case of watercraft rental suppliers, the company owes its customers a duty of reasonable care. This means the operator cannot send a customer out with a jet ski that has a faulty motor or a flotation vest that is defective without incurring responsibility if an injury occurs. They have a duty to inspect their equipment and ensure it is in safe and operating order before release to a customer.
Negligence Per Se
Another legal theory that is often used in jet-ski and other watercraft accidents is negligence per se. This theory of liability applies if it can be shown that the operator violated a law designed to protect a person from injury and this violation led to someone being harmed as a result. Given that so many people use the waters in and around Florida every day, and not all are experienced, the state highly regulates the use of personal watercraft. For example, it is prohibited to jump the wake of a nearby vessel if it requires the watercraft to come unnecessarily close or the vessel’s view is obstructed. If a jet-ski tour guide encouraged him/her to engage in wake jumping in a highly trafficked area and/or close to oncoming vessels and a customer was injured, the tour operator would be liable for the injury under the negligence per se doctrine.
Talk to Personal Injury Lawyer
If you suffered an injury while riding on a rented jet-ski, it is important to speak with a personal injury lawyer to determine which parties can be held responsible for the accident. You only have a certain period of time to file a lawsuit, so the having the conversation with a lawyer sooner rather than later will give the lawyer time to fully analyze your case and decide on the best course of action. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado represents clients injured in jet-ski and boating accidents. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.