Tue 5th Dec | 2023

Clark Fountain Secures 7-Figure Settlement After Man Dies in Gulf Coast Boating Incident

Boating Laws & Safety Personal Injury Wrongful Death BY

During the pandemic, outdoor activities and boating became increasingly popular, leading to a surge in boat sales across the United States. In a historic milestone, Florida, witnessed boat registrations surpassing one million for the first time in its history. While this news was welcomed by boat manufacturers, it also raised concerns within the boating community.

Record-breaking sales have unfortunately been accompanied by a rise in boating injuries and fatalities, attributed to both safety issues with the boats themselves and inexperienced boat operators. At Clark Fountain, we’ve noticed a significant uptick in marine incidents and boat defect litigation in recent years.

One such tragic case unfolded off Florida’s Gulf Coast on a seemingly perfect boating day. On the fateful day, the two boat operators attended a family reunion at a park where they spent the day in the sun drinking, eating, and visiting relatives. When it came time to leave and return to their waterfront vacation house, they boarded their 21-foot Key West boat with four other family members.

Unfortunately, the afternoon soon turned deadly. The two operators decided to take a shortcut through shallow waters to expedite the ride back. They were inexperienced boating in the area and unfamiliar with navigational markers and low-water areas. As the boat approached the North Channel, a narrow channel bordered to the north with areas so shallow it is considered land for navigational purposes, it made a sudden, aggressive U-Turn to the right. As the boat turned, a passenger seated at the rear left of the boat was violently thrown overboard, striking the shallow bottom and tragically succumbing to blunt force injuries and drowning.

Following this incident, the Decedent’s Estate sought the expertise of Clark Fountain’s Attorney Shana P. Nogues to investigate the matter. As the investigation began, Ms. Nogues discovered that one of the operators, who admitted to grabbing the wheel to perform the deadly U-turn, had a BAC of .067 more than three hours following the incident. Ms. Nogues then filed a lawsuit and conducted the depositions of the operators and other family members. Both operators invoked the Fifth Amendment, refusing to answer any questions to avoid self-incrimination. This left Ms. Nogues on a quest to find answers as to why the operators made the aggressive U-turn.

Undeterred, Ms. Nogues retained a boating safety expert who explained that, in the area where the incident happened, the only reasons for the maneuver are inexperience, intoxication, or a startle response to suddenly noticing the shallow rocky water. Another expert evaluated the blood alcohol results and found the operator who grabbed the wheel had a BAC in excess of the legal limit.

During the expert depositions, Ms. Nogues was able to secured admissions from the defense experts that the Defendants’ boat did not have the right of way, that both operators were driving, and that it is illegal and unsafe to participate in the operation of a boat with a BAC in excess of the legal limit. Ms. Nogues was also able to secure the agreement from the Defendants’ DUI expert that when someone’s BAC is .067 more than three hours after an event, it was in excess of the legal limit at the time of the event.

In light of the experts’ testimony, Ms. Nogues sought leave from the Court to plead punitive damages which was allowed, however, shortly before the jury trial was set, the defendants agreed to settle the case.

Boating accident cases are intricate and present unique legal and factual challenges. Physical evidence may not always be available at the scene or on the boat and determining the precise scene location is not possible. Different rules and laws apply to various boating cases, necessitating specialized legal expertise.

This tragic incident underscores the hidden dangers of inexperienced boat operators and boating under the influence. At Clark Fountain, we have a proven track record of obtaining significant verdicts and settlements against boat and marine vessel manufacturers, this includes a remarkable $100 Million Settlement achieved after a 7-year-old boy tragically lost his life in a boat accident.

As experts in boat accidents, Clark Fountain has handled cases throughout Florida and the United States. Our firm frequently co-counsel cases involving not only marine incidents but also product defect cases in every category and at every level.

If you have any concerns or questions related to boating safety or if you’ve experienced a boating accident, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re here to help ensure your safety and protect your rights.