A $25 flood light from Home Depot probably could have prevented this tragedy. Instead, John Baker was killed and five more teens are hospitalized after a very severe boating accident in a Fort Lauderdale canal. John Baker was a student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Sadly, the boat accident happened around midnight at a bridge in the Middle River area along North Dixie Highway and Northeast 18th Court.
While I am not prepared to draw any final conclusion without first reviewing the actual evidence, I am very bothered by eye witness reports that indicate a low hanging drainage pipe and poor lighting may have contributed to the accident.
In this article, we will explain why the Government may get sued for John Baker’s death and the injuries sustained by the other teen boaters.
Legal Analysis of Liability
If you have ever been on a boat driven in any Fort Lauderdale canal, you know the problem we have with high tides and low hanging bridges. For those who do not know, Fort Lauderdale is home to three things that can make boating extremely dangerous… very high tides, very low hanging bridges, and poor canal lighting.
That is why I was not surprised when I read that a low hanging drainage pipe may be a factor in the causation of this horrible accident.
But here is my issue – the Government has a duty to maintain our roads and waterways so that they are safe. With this in mind, the Government either knew or should have known that a low hanging drainage pipe under a dark bridge posed a serious danger to boaters – especially at night.
The Government should have foresaw circumstances where a boater may attempt to cross under this bridge without seeing the low hanging pipe… thereby endangering the craft and its occupants.
At a minimum, the Government had a duty to make sure bridges are well lit, especially under the bridge, and especially where there are low hanging pipes. A single outdoor light that could be purchased from Home Depot for less than $25 would have prevented this tragedy. How much more would reflective tape have cost, a few bucks?
Do I really need to point this out? Isn’t it obvious? Wouldn’t any normal person install these items if this low hanging pipe was located in their business or on their property where people are known to travel? Wouldn’t you be concerned for the safety of your guests if you maintained a dangerous condition? Wouldn’t you be afraid of getting sued when someone gets hurt or killed?
In law, this is called premises liability – property owners, private and Government alike, have a duty to maintain their premises in safe conditions.
These bridges are dark and even if you are familiar with them or have ridden under them before, it is very easy to miss a low hanging drainage pipe. The Government knows this, yet I am sure it has done nothing to maintain that bridge, its pipe, or lighting conditions for those who pass underneath it.
One other factor that may be relevant is whether or not speed or intoxication also played a role in the accident. Even if this were the case, the only intoxication at issue would be the driver of the boat. Even if the driver was intoxicated, the crash cannot be completely blamed on him/her because the poor maintenance of the bridge, the pipe location, and the lighting are also undeniable factors.
In fact, I would suggest the Government knows very well that there are intoxicated boaters who ride Fort Lauderdale’s waterways on a regular basis (Boating Under the Influence arrests prove this) and it should have designed and maintained its bridge with this in mind.
Bottom line is this – if I was John Baker’s parent or the parent of one of injured, but living teens, I would definitely sue the Government for my kid’s death if the evidence proves the bridge was insufficiently lit or the pipe was put in a place where it doesn’t belong.