While the weather has been hot for months, the official arrival of summer brings with it more boating. Whether deep sea fishing or pleasure cruising, boating accidents are a serious problem faced by many residents in Florida. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife , Florida leads the country in boating accidents per year. each year than any other state. Alcohol (boating under the influence) plays a large part, coming in as a top-10 cause of boating accidents in Florida.
Recently, a pair of proposed bills in the Florida House and Senate could affect how the state handles convictions for boating under the influence of alcohol (BUI). The two proposed bills, House Bill 289 and Senate Bill 598, would toughen the penalties for a person convicted of boating under the influence of alcohol. If passed, the laws would go into effect in July of this year (2015). There are three primary provisions of the proposed legislation:
1. BUI convictions would be reported to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. This would mean a possible DRIVING suspension for a BOATING infraction!
2. BUI convictions would be recorded on a person’s driving record, just like convictions for driving under the influence (DUI);
3. Prior BUI convictions would be considered prior DUI convictions for purposes of enforcing Florida’s DUI laws, and vice versa! Currently, BUI convictions are not counted as DUI convictions for purposes of enhancement. If the law(s) are passed, a previous DUI charge may be used against you to enhance a BUI charge. Also, in the state of Florida, you can be charged with a felony DUI based on previous convictions (ie. three DUI charges in 10 years or four in total). If this bill passes (see below), a person can be looking at a felony DUI charge and a permanent driving suspension based on boating under the influence convictions from decades ago!
Besides bringing up potential constitutional issues, this bill had both supporters and opponents up in arms. If passed, the bill would go into effect July 1, 2015. As of this writing (June 2015), the Senate bill died in committee and there are no plans to reintroduce it.
What were the bills purpose? Clearly they aimed to reduce the number of boating accidents on Florida waterways,but they also opened up a “boatload” of issues. Criminally, we have already discussed potential issues.
For the victims of BUI and their personal injury attorneys, whole new avenues might have opened up. A person injured in Florida by a drunk boater can seek damages through the civil court system by filing a negligence lawsuit. To win this claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed the victim a duty, that the duty was breached, the plaintiff sustained damages, and that the breach was an actual and proximate cause of the damages.
Punitive damages are always a possibility in a DUI or drunk boating crash. If these bills had passed, would there have been a possibility for punitive damages based on PRIOR DUI/BUI convictions as well?
All boaters in Florida owe the people around them, including their own passengers, a duty of reasonable care. A person who chooses to drink alcohol and operate a boat has breached this duty, since his or her actions unreasonably endanger others and themselves. Hopefully this summer’s boating will be safe and fun for residents of the “Sunshine State”.
Have you or a loved one been arrested for Boating under the influence? Then call the Pinellas BUI defense lawyers at Blake & Dorsten, P.A. today! These former prosecutors are experienced trial attorneys.
Blake & Dorsten, P.A. handles all criminal and personal injury cases along the Gulf Coast of Florida including Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Manatee, Sarasota, Citrus and Polk counties.