Who Is Liable After a Shark Attack?
According to data from the Florida Museum of Natural History, there have been 244 reported shark attacks in the State of Florida from 2007 to 2016 – one of which was fatal. Shark attacks may be less common than other types of personal injury accidents, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in the civil court system. Depending on the circumstances, injured victims may have grounds to sue the beach owner, city, lifeguard on duty, tour company, or other entity. Recovering for a shark bite injury is possible if the injured person can prove four main elements:
The Defendant Owed a Duty of Care
The defendant, or the party allegedly liable for the shark attack, must be someone who owed the plaintiff (the injured party) a duty of care. This duty may be one that legally exists, such as the duty of a property owner to maintain a safe premises. It may also be one that any reasonable and prudent person owes to others.
Duties of care in a shark attack case can vary. It may be a shark tour guide with a duty to protect paying guests from danger, as was the case in a recent shark attack claim. In this case, the victim alleged that the dive instructor owed her a duty of care, and breached this duty by teaching the class while drunk. It may also be the duty of a property owner, product manufacturer, or third party.
The Defendant Was Negligent
“Negligence” is the breach of an accepted standard of care, resulting in another person’s injuries or death. The defendant must be guilty of some form of negligence (except in product liability cases) to assume liability for a personal injury. In the case mentioned above, the alleged act of negligence was twofold: the dive instructor taught the class drunk and he fed the shark bait that led the creature toward her. The courts will rule that a person or entity was negligent if a “reasonable and prudent” person would not have done the same in similar circumstances. If someone breaks a law, he or she is typically liable without requiring further proof of negligence.
The Defendant’s Actions Caused the Injuries
There must be a link between the defendant’s breach of duty of care and the shark attack or injuries for the defendant to be liable. Even if the dive instructor was drunk and did feed the shark bait, if the injury occurred because the plaintiff ignored the instructor’s orders and taunted the shark, the instructor might not be liable. The plaintiff must show that the defendant’s action or failure to act was the proximate cause of the shark bite injuries.
In some cases, there may be more than one cause. For example, the instructor may have caused the shark to target the plaintiff, but a defective wetsuit may have made injuries worse. The courts may apportion a percentage of fault to more than one party – including to the plaintiff. Florida abides by a modified comparative negligence law, which states that a plaintiff may still be eligible for compensation if he or she contributes to the injuries.
The Plaintiff Suffered Damages
In a shark attack claim, the plaintiff will need to have suffered compensable damages to establish grounds for a personal injury claim in Florida. These may include personal injuries, pain and suffering, medical bills, property damage, or lost wages from missed time at work. Shark attacks typically involve at least minor injuries and medical bills, as well as emotional distress from the fear and trauma of the event. A good personal injury attorney in Miami can help shark attack victims understand potential liability for their injuries. Contact SteinLaw Miami for a free consultation, and figure out what your options are.