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With more and more people enjoying water sports and boats during the summer season, it’s important to be aware of your rights and responsibilities regarding boating and boating accidents

Though not mainstream knowledge, there are 6.5 deaths every year per 100,000 boats. With more than 4,450 vessel crashes every year, boating deaths are a significant concern that affects individuals regularly involved in water activities. 

For this reason, and because not all boating accidents end in fatality, you must know your rights and legal options. Whether it’s filing a lawsuit for gross negligence or filing a claim with a manufacturer for a defective product, knowing your options ensures you seek compensation for the damages you experience.

Basics of Boating Accidents

What Constitutes a Boating Accident?

Boating accidents include any vessel incident that results in loss, injury, property damage, missing individuals, and death. There are a variety of types of boating accidents including:

  • Swimming to an anchored boat casualty
  • Multiple boat collision injury/casualty
  • A boat explosion or fire
  • A towing incident (wakeboarding, waterskiing, tubing, etc.)
  • Passengers falling off of vehicle
  • A flooded or capsized boat
  • Someone drowning

Most boating accidents will occur near large bodies of water including oceans, bays, and lakes. The following states have the greatest rates of boating casualties:

  1. Alaska: 33.6 annual boating fatalities
  2. Hawaii: 23.8 annual boating fatalities
  3. Vermont: 13.9 annual boating fatalities

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 Immediate Steps After a Boating Accident

What is the first action required of a boat operator who is involved in a boating accident?

Your first course of action as a boat operator in a boating accident is to stop your vessel. It’s the law. You then are required to attend to and help any passengers who have injuries from the accident. That is, unless doing so puts the boat or passengers in even more danger. 

Once everyone is accounted for, the licensed boating operator must move the boat out of further harm’s way to limit and prevent more boating accidents and damage. 

Legal Rights After a Boating Accident

Understanding Your Boating Accident Rights

Explanation of the rights of passengers and boat operators after an accident.

If you are involved in a boating accident, you have rights that can afford you compensation for any kind of losses and monetary damages. This includes any medical bills, emotional distress, suffering, pain, death of a loved one, and pain. 

It is federal law that boat operators or owners (even if not involved in the accident themselves) file a boating accident report. This is increasingly important for state reporting when someone in an accident dies, disappears, or needs medical treatment far more extensive than first aid. Additionally, a boating report needs to be filed when the accident’s property damages exceed $2,000 or are completely destroyed. This form must be completed as it could be used as evidence for a victim in a personal injury lawsuit. 

Responsibilities of a Boat Operator

If you’re wondering, “When is a boat operator required to assist anyone injured in an accident?” the answer is always. When involved in or tending to another boating accident, it is the boat operator’s responsibility to ensure everyone in their vessel remains safe and out of danger to the best of their abilities. If the operator cannot help remaining passengers or other boat accident passengers, they should go to the shore and send out a distress signal asking for help. It is required by federal law that boating operators report a boating accident. 

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Filing a Boat Injury Claim

When to File a Boat Injury Claim

In order to file a personal injury claim after a boating accident, there are a variety of requirements that need to be met including:

  • A person acted wrongfully and negligently intentionally
  • There needs to be evidence that negligent actions led to the victim’s injury
  • There needs to be proof that the victim experienced losses because of their injuries

Many times, loved ones will sue boating operators for wrongful death if negligence plays a role. Meaning, the victim’s injuries and fatality were caused by the operator’s carelessness and inability to act with reasonable care. 

Navigating the Claims Process

The claim process can be time-consuming, so to ensure you navigate it as efficiently as possible, follow the steps below:

  1. Call your insurance company immediately and report the accident
  2. Collect proof and evidence of the accident
  3. Write down as much additional information you can remember regarding the accident
  4. Hire an attorney with experience in boating accidents
  5. Consider your long-term needs

It’s important to remember that legal proceedings exist to ensure that the guilty party is held liable for negligent actions. During the legal process, the judge will ask a variety of questions that require you to speak. To be well prepared for your testimony, it’s key to work with your lawyer in practicing how to answer questions. Some examples can include relaying the day of the accident’s events and summarizing the incident. In addition to providing details of your injuries, you will need to go into depth about your pain level and physician’s diagnosis/recommendations. It will be documented whether or not you interacted with an insurance adjuster, what you said, and whether or not you gave an official recorded statement. 

Choosing the Right Boat Accident Attorney

What to Look for in an Attorney

When it comes time to hire a boat accident attorney, look for the following qualities so that you have the best chance of winning your case:

  • Personal injury law and maritime expertise
  • Track record of winning boating accident cases

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Preparing for Your Consultation

To ensure you are fully prepared for your consultation with a boating accident attorney, make sure you have the following items on hand:

  1. A detailed description of your injuries that goes into depth about the level of pain you felt and experienced, your doctor’s prognosis, and the length of time it will take for you to make a full recovery. Your attorney will also need your insurance information and your coverage policy number. 
  2. An official police report copy will be the most impactful piece of evidence for your case, making it a critical piece of documentation. Not only will it list the date and time of the accident, it will include the cause as well. This document will contain the names and contact information of all involved parties, making it an invaluable asset for your case. 
  3. Take photographs of the scene of the accident. This is an important piece of evidence that will showcase the damage to your property.
  4. Your personal injury lawyer will want two different types of documentation to help your case. Number one, medical bills that demonstrate the financial cost of your injuries. Number two, property damage repair costs that establish liability. 
  5. Medical Records are important documents that your insurance company will want to view prior to approving your claim. Diagnostic test results will help establish evidence that you experienced injuries from a personal injury accident. Include the letter your doctor gives you about your prognosis as this will help determine the cost of medical treatment in the future. 
  6. When meeting with your attorney, prepare a list of questions that you feel are important to either your case, your well-being, or unmet needs. The more questions you ask, the more information you are knowledgeable about in regard to the legal proceedings. Ask about the fees associated with the attorney’s time at this point, as well. 

Case Studies and Precedents

Notable Boating Accident Case

In 2019, Paul Terry was allegedly drunk when operating his family’s boat when 19-year-old Mallory Beach was thrown into the water and killed. Beach’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the business that sold the minor’s alcohol in addition to the business’s owner for $15 million dollars. This case goes to show that though Terry was responsible for operating the vessel, the business whose negligence in serving minors was the primary cause of careless boating operation.  

Preventive Measures and Safety Tips

How to Prevent Boating Accidents

In order to prevent the possibility of a boating accident from occurring, follow the tips below:

  • Wear a life jacket.
  • Avoid alcohol when operating a vessel
  • Take caution when engaging with personal watercrafts
  • Take a boating certification class
  • Operate the boat at a safe speed

In addition to the aforementioned preventative measures, you can be proactive and take a boat safety training course that educates boating operators and passengers on how to limit personal injury near bodies of water. Because over 70% of boating accidents are caused due to human error, investing in a course is a key way to ensure you are equipped with the tools necessary to safely operate a vessel. 

Resources for Boating Safety Education

In order to operate a boat, a passing completion of a TPWD-certified boater education course is required as well as a photo I.D. for anyone born after 1993. The vehicle in question is considered to be a vessel with a motor greater than 15 horsepower or a 14 ft long windblown boat. 

Some of the most common and popular basic boating courses have about 6 to 13 lessons in them. They cover a wide range of materials including safety and operation. If you are interested in taking a boating course, consider the following resources:

  • Online Courses — Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
  • BoatUS Foundation’s online boating safety course

Work With Naqvi Law

With summer in full swing and more people on the lake, boating safety is more important than ever. To ensure your and other passengers’ safety, it is key to follow precautionary boating safety protocols. From wearing a life jacket to not drinking while operating a vessel, each guideline is listed to ensure your safety. If you have been involved in a boating personal injury accident, consider consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney, like our professional Naqvi Law, to explore your options in seeking compensation for your losses and property damage. To file a boating personal injury law case, reach out to us today for a free consultation.