People use boats both for pleasure and work. Those who boat for pleasure and are injured may be covered by different liability rules than those who are hurt while on boats for work. Common scenarios that give rise to injury on boats are when a boat collides with another boat, a boat collides with a submerged obstacle such as a rock, a boat collides with the wake of another boat, or a boat hits a wave.
Both federal and state laws may apply to boat accidents. When a boat accident happens at sea, maritime law, rather than state common law, may apply. 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.
State Laws to Recover Compensation for Boat Accidents
In a pleasure boating accident that is covered by state laws, you will usually have to show negligence, which is that someone failed to act with reasonable care and the failure caused an accident, in order to recover compensation for an injury. When two boats collide, one or both boat operators may be partially responsible. As on the road, 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.
Depending on whether the state follows comparative negligence or contributory negligence, the injured operator may be able to make a claim against the other operator. In some states, an injured operator will be barred from recovery if he or she was at all at fault for the accident, but in many states the injured operator is only barred from recovery if he or she is 50% or more at fault or 51% or more at fault. Generally, injured passengers can sue either or both at-fault boat operators.
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, it may be found negligent. In most cases, however, 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.
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 owner or operator may be found negligent.
As with other accidents, the at-fault boating operator's insurance can affect whether you can recover compensation for injuries. Among the economic and noneconomic damages you may be able to recover as an injured boating accident victim are medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. 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 not insurance.
Recovering for Work Injuries Arising From Boat Accidents
The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act gives employees injured while working on navigable waters an opportunity to recover lost wages and medical benefits. Among the workers covered are longshoremen, port workers, repairmen, and ship builders. If you are covered by this act, you may be able to secure temporary total disability benefits, temporary partial disability benefits, and permanent total disability benefits.