The specific categories of damages that you can recover from a boating accident in which clear fault can be determined will vary somewhat state by state. That said, in most states, you can count on being able to recover the same damages that you would in most other categories of personal injury lawsuits. These include property damage, medical bills, pain and suffering, emotional trauma, and lost wages due to injury and recovery time.
Although boats are usually pretty safe, any type of boating accident can get dangerous, fast. While accident numbers are steadily dropping, there were still 2,559 injuries and 613 deaths resulting from boating accidents in the U.S. last year alone. It is crucial to know what you’re doing before operating any kind of boat/
There are several major causes of accidents and fatalities. As fun as boats can be, it is essential to never operate any boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately, like with automobiles, this is a major cause of crashes. Some boat accidents also take place at night and the majority of boat accident deaths also occur at night, because with limited light and during off hours, rescue operations are much more difficult.
When there is established fault, accidents can open boat operators up to civil litigation. Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of how civil litigation can play out in a boat accident case and what sort of damages you can expect to recover.
The legal jurisdiction and state law matter greatly
The laws and accompanying liability legislation regarding boating accidents are a bit more complicated than other types of accidents, such as car collisions. This is largely due to the fact that in many bodies of water, federal law holds sway in addition to state law.
Your boating accident may fall under the jurisdiction of federal law if the accident occurred in a navigable body of water such as is used for the movement of goods. On top of that, federal law will apply if any of the boats involved in the accident are commercial vehicles. This would include a barge that is transporting commercial products, for example.
Most of the time, state law will be your primary determinant. If the boating accident happened on a pond, lake, or small river, it is almost certainly going to fall under state law. Even if the accident takes place in a major navigable area such as a harbor or the Mississippi River, federal law will NOT apply if the vehicles involved are recreational boats and not commercial vessels.
Most accidents involve recreational boats, and thus are going to fall under the purview of state law.
Will a boating accident lawsuit be successful and what can I expect a win to look like?
As with car crashes in most states, the decision to pursue civil litigation or not is contingent upon several questions. You’ll have to answer the questions “was someone clearly at fault?” and “did the accident cause damage or injury?” If the answer to both questions is “yes,” then you most likely have a valid case.
If you win your case, you could receive compensation to cover the cost of repairing or replacing your vessel and any other property damage, your medical bills, the cost of future treatment, any work you missed, and any other expenses that happened as a result of the accident.
Should I contact a lawyer?
Yes. Boating accident cases are significantly more difficult to pursue than a car crash. Why? For one, the legal framework for boating laws is complex. Also, unlike a typical crash on the highway, boating accidents tend to have a lot less witnesses. This can make arguments in civil court a bit more tricky. If the police were involved, they likely arrived late to the scene. This may make the police report a bit more complicated.
According to Ohio attorney John Fitch of the Fitch Law Firm, “boating accidents present challenges due to the unique aspects of these cases compared to collisions that happen on land”. For example, the victims may have to decide whether or not to abandon a sinking ship. The boat also may be difficult to locate due to the fact that it’s far from the shore.
There are still a number of ways you can assess your claim along with the assistance of a qualified attorney. For one, you can still document injuries and provide copies of medical bills. And, if your boat did not sink, or if it sank and was raised, then photographic evidence of the damage can also provide clues as to what caused the crash.
Aside from the operator responsible for the crash, other common subjects to liability in these types of accidents may be the boat manufacturer, the company that owned the boat, or, if the boat was involved in commercial activity, the related employer. That last example might involve federal law too, making it all the more necessary for you to want to have a qualified attorney representing you in such a case.