What Do I Do If I Am in an Accident With a Rented Boat?
The Treasure Coast’s waterways are a tempting way to spend a day, which means that inexperienced boat operators may be joining in on the fun. Boat rentals provide people of all experience levels with the opportunity to enjoy their own day out on the water. Unfortunately, rentals also mean that people inexperienced with watercraft may make careless decisions, injuring others and causing damage that can require expensive repairs.
Boat rental companies are often reluctant to cover injuries and damages to other watercraft caused by rental customers, but the fact is that they have insurance policies in place for this exact purpose. Those who have been injured in a rental boat accident need to take quick steps to contact the rental company, determine what liability coverage is available, and pursue a claim for the entire extent of their damages.
A Tampa boat accident lawyer can assist with the process of filing a boating accident claim, especially in situations where a rental company or insurer insists that they are not liable.
Boat Rental Company Negligence
Boating rental companies have a duty of care to take reasonable steps for ensuring that their vessels pose a minimal risk to rental customers and others out on the water. This duty extends to the following areas:
Ensuring That Renters Are Capable of Safe Vessel Operation
In order to qualify someone to rent a vessel, a rental company is supposed to verify that the customer has the skills and knowledge needed for safe boating operations.
Florida law requires that all boat operators born on or after 1988 obtain a safety certification from the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) or a similar organization. Renters are able to obtain a temporary certification that is valid for only 90 days. Unfortunately, the temporary certification “course” is easily completed and consists solely of a multiple-choice test. Worse, people are allowed to take the test as many times as needed to pass.
Even still, rental companies must perform minimal due diligence, which includes verifying customers’ safety certificates and asking a few basic questions about their abilities. They also have a duty to enforce basic safety measures, including verbal and written warnings that operating a vessel under the influence increases the risks of an accident.
If a rental company fails to vet its customers or provide basic controls over things like underaged operators or visibly intoxicated operators, then the company could be considered negligent.
Providing Rental Customers With Informed Consent
A boat rental company has an obligation to warn rental customers about common hazards they may encounter. Most often, these warnings are found in a liability waiver the customer signs before they are able to make the rental. Customers should also, ideally, receive verbal warnings regarding some of the most common boating safety hazards. In the event of extreme weather, the company should inform patrons of the risks and, ideally, not provide watercraft for rental when conditions are extremely hazardous.
If rental customers aren’t provided with the information they need to take precautions and make an informed decision before their rental, the boat rental company could be liable for any resulting incidents.
Providing Needed Safety Equipment
A rental company should provide enough life jackets for the typical occupancy of each vessel. They should also provide fire extinguishers and other safety equipment. Further, the rental company must ensure that their vessels have the bare minimum equipment required for safe operation by Florida law, including navigation lights, a VHF radio, a visual distress signal, a sound-producing device (horn), backfire flame control, etc. A first aid kit should also ideally be provided with each rented vessel.
If the rental company does not provide customers with this equipment, they could be held liable for injuries to the customer, their passengers, or potentially others involved in a boating accident.
Properly Maintaining Rental Vessels
A boating rental company has a legal duty to regularly inspect and maintain its vessels. If the rental is based on a peer-to-peer (P2P) system, like Boatsetter, then the service provider is required to have the vessel owner confirm that they have regularly maintained and inspected their vessel prior to rental.
Note, too, that most P2P service providers like Uber have minimum condition requirements for the vehicles being offered for rental. Failing to properly vet each vessel being offered could constitute negligence, in some cases.
In any case, when a boat maintenance issue is the root cause of an accident, the boat owner could be held liable for damages.
Who Pays for My Injury Costs in a Collision With a Rented Boat?
The insurance coverage available depends on the specific situation and the arrangements made by the rental company.
Foremost, know that any company that provides rented vehicles/vessels has insurance policies available in the event that a rental customer injures someone or causes property damage. The rental company may be reluctant to provide said policy information, but between Florida commercial business laws and due diligence requirements of investors, there is almost guaranteed to be some liability coverage available.
That said, rental companies have several layers of legal protections and other arrangements that can come between an injured party and a claim. The first is that, with nearly all companies, rental customers will sign a liability release form as part of the rental process. This waiver is supposed to release the company from damages caused by negligent operation. However, passengers and others on the water are outside parties to this waiver, so injured persons can potentially get around the waiver to file a claim directly with the rental company. The waiver may also be poorly worded and offer minimal legal protections to the rental company, in some cases.
Second, rental customers are typically encouraged to purchase some form of day-to-day insurance coverage in case an accident does occur. The rental company may offer a policy directly, or the rental customer may purchase the policy through a third-party insurance provider. If the renter paid for the rental on a credit card, it may be possible that the credit card company offers a form of liability coverage in the event of an accident. Their homeowners’ insurance policy could also cover certain boating accidents, although it is unlikely to apply to rental scenarios.
Finally, it may be possible that a defect in your boat or the rented boat could be partially or wholly to blame for the accident. In these cases, the boat manufacturer could be held liable for injury costs under a defective product claim.
Steps to Take After an Accident With a Rented Boat
- Ensure everyone stops. Drop anchor, and do a headcount to ensure all passengers are accounted for.
- Check for injuries. Provide first aid. If anyone is seriously injured, put out a distress call on the VHF and request emergency assistance.
- If you are in a dangerous area, move to a safe cove or area nearby until help arrives.
- Get the contact information of the operator of the rental boat. If they are aware of a policy that could provide coverage, write down the policy number.
- Obtain information about the rental service provider and the owner of the boat (if not the same company).
- Document the accident scene and any key details. Pay close attention to signs of intoxication of the rental boat operator, in particular. Take photos of the damages and any injuries.
- Seek medical attention for all injured parties as soon as possible.
- Contact experienced Tampa boating accident lawyers to start the process of investigating your injury and filing a claim against all liable parties.
Work With Tampa Boating Accident Attorneys Who Care
Getting tangled in an accident with a boat renter can be a complicated situation, but Darrigo & Diaz is available to provide you with legal guidance and assistance. Our attorneys are highly experienced with filing claims on behalf of injured parties and negotiating for the full extent of damages.
When insurance companies or other businesses want to be stubborn, we do not hesitate to take legal action to compel them to offer a reasonable settlement. We are also prepared to file a lawsuit and proceed to a jury trial if that’s what it takes to get the compensation you need.
After your boating accident, make the right call. Call (813) 774-3341 or contact us online to schedule your free, no-risk case evaluation today.