Filing a Wrongful Death Claim Against Someone Killed in an Open Boat Accident

Accidents on the open water that kill all of the occupants of a boat can leave behind shattered families and lots of unanswered questions. Unfortunately, if you think that you may want to sue for the wrongful death of someone onboard the boat, you may not have time to wait for answers. Here are some things that you need to know.

The Probate System May Force You to File a Claim Early

Many times, open water accidents don't leave behind witnesses who can tell everyone what happened. It may take months for the appropriate authorities to determine what caused the accident, whether there was any negligence involved, and even who was driving.

However, the probate system that handles wills and estates isn't as slow to act. If there's any potential that surviving relatives may want to press a wrongful death claim against one of those killed, it's important to act before the estate finishes moving through probate. Probate is the final opportunity, under most circumstances, for any lawsuits to settle against the deceased—so if the estate is closed and the assets disbursed to the heirs, you have no way to collect on your claim.

For example, the families of two men killed when the boat of Marlin's pitcher Jose Fernandez ran into a rock jetty and flipped just off South Beach in Florida have filed a wrongful death claim against the late pitcher's estate—even though there still are unanswered questions about the crash, including whether or not Fernandez was actually driving the boat. However, the lawsuit stops the pitcher's estate from being disbursed until investigations are finished and there's enough information to determine if a wrongful death claim is viable.

The Evidence Collection Process May Involve Multiple Agencies

You may then be in for a long wait before you can proceed with the case because of the extent of the research that has to be done and the number of agencies involved. Realistically, you may be looking at many month's time before you know if the case can proceed.

For example, in the case involving Jose Fernandez, the accident occurred back in September of 2016 and the investigation is still ongoing. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has control of the investigation and has declined to give a timeline for how long it might continue to take. That's likely because there has to be time for accident reconstruction experts to weigh all of the evidence—everything from the damage done to the boat to the position of the bodies when they were found—in order to determine who was driving.

It may also be important to wait on the findings of both the medical examiner and law enforcement, in order to determine things like who, if anyone, onboard was drinking or under the influence of drugs. If there were any witnesses of any sort, law enforcement may have to conduct interviews in order to determine what they know. Additional information like GPS data and cell phone data may also have to be analyzed.

The important thing to recognize in accidents like this is that a wrongful death claim involving an open water accident forces you to both "hurry up and wait." You have to act quickly to preserve your rights, but you need to be patient as you wait on the evidence to develop. For more information, contact an attorney about your options.