Articles Posted in Boating Injury

It’s a subject we have mentioned on several occasions, but it’s one that bears repeating. Even a single error can be damaging to a case, or lead to wasteful and duplicative effort for all involved. Indeed, as the defendants in a recent case before Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal, Soto v. McCulley Marine Servs., Inc., now know, litigants should endeavor to get things right the first time because even if an error works in your favor, it may ultimately just lead to wasted effort.

McCulley began with a drowning that occurred on Independence Day 2009. In 2009, Manatee County had a program to create artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. The program involved considerable amounts of concrete debris on other materials. Accordingly, the county set up a staging area at the southeastern end of Anna Maria Island, adjacent to Coquina Beach and Bayside Park. The area is popular for visitors, especially those who enjoy water sports. The defendants in this case were enlisted by the county to help build the reef.  In 2009, Independence Day fell on a Saturday, and the defendants did not wish to work over the holiday weekend. Accordingly, the captain of a tugboat involved in the project moored the tugboat and its barge adjacent to a dock in the staging area. On Independence Day, the decedent was operating a jet ski near the tugboat and barge. During his journey, the jet ski stalled.  The tidal currents were particularly strong, and the decedent became separated from the jet ski. His friends came to assist him, but the decedent drowned. His body was found under the tugboat.

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Under Florida law, a plaintiff has four years to bring a suit for negligence. See Fla. Stat. § 95.11. Although the waters surrounding our state play host to a number of accidents, many potential litigants are surprised to learn that the Florida legal rules, including the aforementioned statute of limitations, are often not those that govern disputes that arise on the seas. Instead, maritime law controls many of these cases, and potential litigants should be aware of the implications that these differing legal rules may have for their lawsuits. For instance, these differences were at the heart of a recent decision from Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, Lupola v. Lupola, which concerned the differing statutes of limitations for negligence under maritime and Florida law.

The incident at issue in this case occurred in July 2010. The plaintiff and her husband were on a raft that was being pulled by a boat operated by her father-in -law. At one point during the trip, the raft went airborne and then hit the water with enough force to eject the plaintiff and her husband from the raft. Both the plaintiff and her husband were injured and received medical treatment the same day. A little less than four years later, the plaintiff filed suit against her father-in-law and the manufacturer of the raft, BRP US, Inc., alleging negligence against the former and products liability against the latter. Following discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that since the incident occurred on a waterway, it was subject to the statute of limitations for negligence under maritime law, which is set at three years rather than four years, as under Florida law. See 46 U.S.C. § 30106 (“Except as otherwise provided by law, a civil action for damages for personal injury or death arising out of a maritime tort must be brought within [three] years after the cause of action arose.”) The plaintiff conceded that maritime law applied but argued that her claim was subject to equitable tolling because her husband’s domineering attitude prevented her from seeking legal advice for some time after the accident. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion, finding that the plaintiff had not shown the grounds for equitable tolling, and therefore the action was time-barred. The plaintiff then appealed to the First District.

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