Boating Accidents Lead to Lawsuits
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What Types of Boating Accidents Lead to Lawsuits?

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

For many of us, enjoying time on the open water is one of the best ways to get out into the great outdoors. Whether that’s sailing on Lake Michigan, swimming at the beaches of Cape Cod, or taking a cruise around the Florida Keys, a day on the water can be a fantastic vacation experience.

Unfortunately, these activities can lead to accidents, many of which are caused by negligence. It’s not surprising that victims of these incidents usually want to receive compensation for the injuries they have suffered. Although not all boating accidents can lead to lawsuits, many do.

Potential Injuries and Damages Boating Accidents Can Cause

From lacerations caused by propellers to traumatic brain injuries due to collisions, boating accidents of all varieties can lead to minor, serious, or even fatal injuries. Examples of these injuries include:

  • Broken bones
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Dismemberment
  • Brain injuries
  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Drowning

Boating accidents can also lead to major property damage, including damage to other vessels.

Accidents Caused by Boating Operators

Just like accidents on the road, boating accidents are often caused by the reckless or negligent operation of a vessel. Activity that puts any other vessel or individuals in danger disregards the safety of you or others, and goes against the US Navigation Rules may constitute reckless operation. This behavior includes:

  • Traveling at an excessive speed.
  • Operating a vessel while intoxicated or under the influence, including certain prescription medications.
  • Operating too close to other vessels, divers, or swimmers.
  • Dangerously weaving through traffic.
  • Overloading the vessel by exceeding the manufacturer’s recommended capacity.
  • Not staying vigilant or looking for signs of hazards.
  • Operating a vessel when dangerously inexperienced.
  • Being distracted by a cell phone or passenger.

If the operator of the vessel responsible for the accident is proven to have been reckless or negligent, they will be found liable for any damages or injuries caused by the incident. Filing a claim against the operator of a boat is similar to failing a personal injury claim against the driver of a vehicle in a road accident; if your claim is successful, the operator’s insurance company will cover the expenses you incurred due to the accident, from lost wages to hospital bills.

As a boat owner, if a family member was operating the boat at the time of the accident, you may also be liable according to Michigan state law. This might be the case even if you were not on the boat at the time, as it is assumed that you gave the operator consent to drive your boat.

Accidents Caused By Failure of Boating Equipment

Not all boating accidents are caused by reckless or negligent vessel operation; failure of equipment or machinery can lead to unfortunate mishaps. These failures usually result from faulty manufacturing or a lack of maintenance on the boat owner’s part.

Boat owners are responsible for ensuring that their vessel is maintained, including fixing or replacing damaged or worn parts. Boat owners must ensure their vessel is in a safe condition and carries mandatory safety equipment in compliance with federal law and state regulations, such as:

  • Life jackets
  • Visual distress signals
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Digital Selective Calling
  • VHF-FM marine radio channels

Not keeping up to date with this is dangerous and can result in all kinds of accidents, such as the boat operator losing control and crashing the boat into another vessel, a dock, or swimmers.

Manufacturing and design defects can cause as much damage as poorly maintained boats. If such a defect is responsible for a boating accident, the victim may bring a claim against the manufacturer to recover any damages, including pain and suffering, loss of earnings, and property damage.

Boating Accidents

Personal Watercraft Accidents

The Coast Guard reports that personal watercraft (PWC), such as jet skis and Sea-Doos, tend to have a higher collision rate than other water vessels. This tendency is partly because they are less visible to other boats and frequently driven by inexperienced people.

Sadly, as PWC offers very little protection to the operator, accidents regularly cause the operator significant injury, and fatalities are not uncommon. Family members may file wrongful death claims, which are notoriously complicated cases and can take longer to process. While we can compare boating crashes to car accidents, PWC crashes are more akin to motorcycle accidents.

Another difficulty regarding these accidents is that PWC are rarely covered by homeowners insurance, so if the rider of the PWC is liable for damages, they may face exorbitant charges unless they have specific insurance.

Incidents on Cruise Ships

The types of accidents that regularly occur on cruise ships differ from those on smaller watercraft. These frequently include:

  • Swimming pool accidents
  • Slip and fall accidents, including elevator and escalator accidents
  • Fires
  • Drowning
  • Accidents that occur while participating in recreational activities offered onboard

Thanks to the large number of people living together, illnesses are easily caught and spread on a cruise ship. Common illnesses include:

  • Legionnaires disease
  • Norovirus
  • Flu
  • Chickenpox

Depending on the type of incident and who is responsible for its occurrence, you may be able to file a personal injury claim. These claims are typically against the cruise ship company and are similar to premises liability cases, where owners are sued for injuries sustained on their property.

Several factors make personal injury cases on cruise ships complex. Cruise ship passengers are usually required to agree to a set of terms and conditions before they purchase their ticket, which can limit the victim’s chances of gaining compensation.

Additionally, many cruise ship companies are not based in the United States. Because of this, if you plan to sue a cruise ship company, you will undoubtedly be in need of an attorney experienced in maritime law.

Seeking Compensation for Boating Injuries.

If you sustain boating injuries or damage to your property due to any type of incident involving a water vessel, you may be able to file a property damages or personal injury lawsuit. You may also be eligible for either economic (which covers the financial costs you have incurred due to the accident) or non-economic damages (which covers emotional, physical, and reputational damage). Common types of damages are:

  • Medical bills including medication
  • Loss of income or earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Long-term care or therapy
  • Emotional distress
  • Property damage
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Disability
  • Scarring or disfigurement
  • Loss of consortium (damage to a family relationship)
  • Court costs

Proving liability can be extremely complicated and requires the services of an experienced personal injury lawyer. However, you can help your case by exchanging contact details with those who were involved or witnessed the incident, gathering as much evidence as possible from the scene of the accident by taking photos of injuries and damage and seeking immediate medical attention.

What Should I Do If I Was Injured in a Boating Accident?

Once you’ve received medical treatment, you should get in touch with a personal injury attorney if you hope to receive damages for your injuries. The talented professionals at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C., are committed to fighting for you to receive your rightful compensation.

For more information or to arrange a free consultation with one of our skilled and experienced attorneys, call our law firm on 866-MICH-LAW.

Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.

Matilda is a writer and Spanish to English translator with extensive experience in legal translation. Travel is her passion, and in her spare time, she loves nothing more than exploring new places.



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