Wednesday, June 15, 2016



While up in north Florida this past weekend, my in-laws were hosting a party at their home which sits on one of the larger rivers up that way.  Saturday was the first nice day of the week, and all the crazies were on the water early.
As I was standing on the river bank with some family friends eating hot dogs, we watched in horror as an exceedingly large sport cruiser passed the property going way too fast.  As you can imagine this boat which belonged in the gulf, not the river, threw up a gigantic wake in comparison to the minimal wakes created by the little “go-fast” boats which usually populate the river.  This particular wake picked up my father-in-laws floating dock and deposited it on a tree branch hanging over water.  The local real estate attorney who happened to be eating hot dogs with me, piped up asking if boats on the river could be held liable for damage caused by their wakes.  He then proceeded to tell me his tale of woe about one of his clients trying to sell a house on the river with boathouse and dock having suffered significant damage from similar large boat wakes. 
The short answer I gave him was yes, all boats (including jet skis) are responsible for any damage caused by their wakes, be it personal injuries or property damage.  Our firm has litigated several of these boat wake cases, but thus far they have always involved personal injuries, not property damage.   
That having been said, we find normally there are two big challenges presented in boat wake cases.  First, there is frequently a problem identifying the owner and/or operator of the vessel who created the damaging boat wake.  The second major issue that arises is that it is often difficult to prove the damage (personal or property) in question was caused by the excessive wake rather than being a pre-existing condition.   

As more and more boats hit the water, more and more people are operating boats without the requisite skill and experience needed for the protection of everyone on the water.  As a result, it would seem boat wake cases are only going to continue to become more prevalent as the years go on.   If you don’t want to find yourself on the wrong end of a boat wake case, go the extra step and make sure you are a conscientious and courteous boat operator.   Competent boat operators are something we can never have enough of.

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