Critical legal issues to understand with boating accident injury claims
Boating is a wonderful way to relax and have fun in the sun. But accidents happen with boats often. The US Coast Guard states that there were 4,158 boating accidents in the United States in 2015, with 626 deaths. Those boating accidents also resulted in 2,613 injuries and $42 million in property damage.
If you or a loved one was hurt in a boating accident or sailing accident, you probably are wondering what your legal rights are. Might you be entitled to compensation for your boating accident injuries? This article lays out the key things to be aware of with boating accident personal injury claims and settlements.
Negligence in Boating Accidents
The key factor with any type of preventable accident is that of negligence, which is defined under the law as failing to act with ‘reasonable care.” If you are hurt on a sailboat or motor boat, you must prove in court that your injuries were caused by the negligence of another party. Only if you prove to a judge or jury that the other party was responsible will you recover financial damages – lost wages, medical costs, pain and suffering, etc.
It is the job of your personal injury attorney to prove that another person failed to perform their duties of reasonable care in a big boating accident or sailing accident, and that failure directly caused your accident injuries.
Common Causes of Boat Accidents
It helps to describe the most common reasons for accidents on the water to get a better idea of how a personal injury claim could work. Below are the most common reasons that these accidents happen. In most of these situations, another boat operator may have been negligent, depending upon the circumstances:
Inattention by the operator
: The boat operator is required by the law to be alert and aware of what is going on around the watercraft. If the operator of another boat or your boat is not paying attention to operating the watercraft and you are hurt, this could result in a personal injury lawsuit.
Improper look out
: It also is common for the boat operator to not designate a lookout, which can lead to hitting another boat or an obstacle in the water.
: The US Coast Guard states that operator inexperience is a very common reason for boat crashes. Operators must understand the basics of operating a boat safely as well as the navigation rules. They also must be able to handle emergencies as they occur.
: A boat must be operated at a safe speed, just as a car. This gives the operator time to react to other boats and any dangers on the water. If the operator of your or another boat is speeding, he or she could be liable for your injuries.
Boating under the influence (BUI)
: Boating while drunk or high on drugs is a common reason that serious injuries and deaths occur on the water. In most states, the legal limit for boat operators is a blood alcohol level of 0.08%.
Failure of equipment
: Maintaining a boat properly is vital for operating the craft in a safe manner. The boat owner must maintain the boat safely to ensure that it is safe for the water.
Breaking navigational rules
: There are rules on the water just as on the roads. If another boat does not follow the rules of navigation and hits your boat, he or she may be liable in court.
Dangerous weather and waters
: Water conditions can change fast. Some dangerous conditions cannot be anticipated, but there are adverse weather conditions that can be anticipated. Boat operators must be cognizant of potential water and weather conditions.
Wakes and waves
: Wake refers to the water disturbance behind the boat when it passes. A large wake or wave can cause serious personal injuries.
It is your attorney’s job to show in court that the boat operator was negligent in one or more of the above circumstances. If he is successful, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.
Note that the boat operator is required under federal law to file an accident report when an accident happens on the water. This is required when there is property damage or serious personal injury. This often is not done. So if you are hurt, you should be proactive and contact law enforcement and make sure that the boating accident has been reporting. This could be important to your personal injury claim later.
Common Accident Scenarios
Some of the most common types of boat accidents are as follows, as well as who is most often at fault. Again, the matter of establishing who is at fault is the essential matter to determine as far as getting a personal injury settlement or verdict.
Your Boat Is Struck By Another Boat
When there is a crash between two boats, it is common for law enforcement to find both operators to be partially to blame. In this situation, you might have a personal injury claim against both boat operators. If a boat operator was hurt, he or she typically would have a personal injury claim against the other boat operator if he or she was less than 50% responsible for the crash.
If a motorboat and sailboat collide, it is more common for the motorboat to be found at fault. Safe boating practices generally dictate that motorboats should stay clear of slower moving sailboats.
Hitting a Boat’s Wake
When a boat hits a big wave or wake, the force can toss boat passengers onto the floor of the boat, or even overboard. Who is legally to blame in this type of accident is often muddled. State and federal boating laws generally require the operator of the boat to maintain a proper lookout for anything hazardous on the water. However, the liability of the boat operator will vary depending upon the following circumstances:
- How large the wake was
- How fast the boat was going
- What the degree of visibility was
- What the amount of boat traffic was
- Whether the boat operator attempted to alert passengers of the danger
- Whether the injured party occupied a sailboat or motorboat
The boat operators that created the big wave or wake may be found negligent as well. For instance, if the accident occurred in a no wake zone, any wake is in violation of the rules. The operator would then be found negligent and liable for your injuries. But if the boating accident happened in a remote area, the boat operator may not be liable.
Striking a Submerged Object
Even with superb visibility and weather, a boat can strike a rock, land or other submerged objects. In bad weather with poor visibility, it is easy for boats to hit objects in the water and even run aground. Who is liable depends upon the exact conditions and circumstances. For instance, if the boat operator has charts for that part of the water, was traveling slowly and hit a rock, it is unlikely that the operator will be deemed negligent. But if he was speeding in fog, that will probably be deemed negligence.
Not Having Required Safety Equipment
State and federal law requires even small watercraft to have items such as life jackets for all boat passengers, life rings, flares, fire extinguishers, etc. Not carrying required safety equipment may not cause a boating accident. But not having these things can endanger lives after an accident. Lack of essential safety equipment may lead to a personal injury lawsuit against the boat operator.
Insurance Coverage and Motorboat Accidents
A major challenge of boat accident lawsuits is the matter of insurance coverage. Even if the operator is found to be negligent, you still may not be able to recover compensation. Some operators do not have boaters’ insurance. They also may have no assets or property. If these are the case, you may be out of luck to recover damages.
Auto insurance does not apply to boating injuries. While homeowner’s insurance might offer some coverage, many people rent and do not own a home. Plus, not every boat operator has insurance for their boat through the policy for homeowner’s insurance.
Boating Accident Settlements
These are real examples of boating accident settlements from across the US. Your potential settlement could be much more or much less.
- Traumatic brain injury – $5.9 million. The plaintiff fell over the side of the boat and struck the deck 40 feet below.
- Second and third degree burns – $4.5 million. Boat worker received steam burns over 60% of her body while conducting safety checks on a vessel.
- Boat propeller accident – $12 million. Child suffered severe head injuries when he was hit by the propellers on a dive boat.
Summary of Boating Accidents
Establishing fault in a boating accident is a complex matter that is best determined by a competent personal injury attorney. There are a variety of state and federal laws in play that complicate the matter of assigning fault in these events. If you have been injured in a boating accident and have any legal questions, consult with a skilled personal injury attorney. The attorney on these cases typically operates on a contingency basis, meaning you pay only if you win the case. Thus, it is customary for the attorney to offer an initial case review at no cost to you. It is advised to take advantage of this opportunity to determine if there is a possibility of recovering damages in your boat accident case.