People who are injured during recreational boating may be covered by different liability rules than those who are hurt while on boats for work. Common scenarios that give rise to injuries on personal watercraft include when a boat collides with another boat, a boat collides with the wake of another boat, a boat hits a wave, or a boat collides with a submerged obstacle, such as a rock.
Under federal law, a boat operator or owner must file a boating accident report with the state reporting authority when somebody dies, disappears, or requires medical treatment beyond first aid, when property damage amounts to over $2,000, or when a boat is destroyed. The boating accident report may be used as evidence in a personal injury lawsuit.
Collisions Between Boats
To recover compensation in a recreational boating accident case, you will usually need to show negligence, which means that someone failed to act with reasonable care and the failure caused an accident. When two boats collide, one or both boat operators may be partially responsible. There may be state laws that require certain types of boat operators to give deference to other types of boat operators. For example, some states require motorboats to stay out of the way of sailboats because they are more maneuverable.
Generally, injured passengers can sue any at-fault boat operator after an accident, including the operator of their boat. It is unlikely that a passenger would be at fault, so their recovery probably would not be barred or reduced on this basis. Meanwhile, if an injured boat operator is bringing a claim against another boat operator under maritime law, they will not be barred from recovery based on their own fault for an accident, as long as the defendant was at fault to any extent. However, their recovery will be reduced proportionately to their fault. Under some state laws, by contrast, an injured operator may be barred from recovery if they were at fault to a certain degree. In a few states, an injured operator will not receive any compensation if they were at fault to any degree.
Collisions With Wakes, Waves, and Submerged Objects
What if a boat operator crashes into the wake of another boat and not the boat itself? In general, all boat operators are required to look out for potentially hazardous situations. Liability in that case depends on factors such as boat traffic, whether a boat operator warned passengers of the wake, the type of boat, the size of the wake, how fast the boat was moving, and visibility. The operator of a boat that creates a wake can be found negligent depending on the location. There are no wake zones in some marinas and harbors. When a boat creates a wake in those locations, its operator may be found negligent. In most cases, moreover, the operator of the boat that is affected by the wake may be considered negligent for failing to warn passengers.
When a big wave causes an accident, the operator of the boat that is affected may be negligent. However, in some cases, waves affect a boat without anybody's negligence. Similarly, a boat can hit something submerged even when an operator is driving with due care. If the boat operator is navigating with nautical charts and driving safely, the operator may not be liable for a collision with a rock or other obstacle.
Liability for Lack of Safety Equipment
Sometimes injuries are exacerbated because of a boat operator or owner's failure to have safety equipment in case of an accident. Some state safety laws require that life jackets, fire extinguishers, navigational lights, and flares be on board. When safety equipment is not available, and injuries are made worse as a result, the boat's operator or owner may be found negligent.
Damages for Injuries in Recreational Boating Accidents
As with other accidents, the at-fault boating operator's insurance can affect whether you can recover compensation for injuries. Among the economic and non-economic damages that you may be able to recover as a boating accident victim are medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. In some cases, when a boating operator has assets, it may be possible to recover damages directly from the boating operator even if there is no insurance.