What Is the Injury Claims Process for a Boat Accident?

An old expression says the cure for anything is salt water, so it’s no wonder we as human beings are drawn to the sea. Boating can be one of the most pleasurable pastimes; it gives you the opportunity to see amazing views and experience calming waters. But as with all outdoor activities and hobbies, you also run the risk of getting injured. If you’ve been injured by someone else’s negligence and are looking for compensation, you’re probably interested in learning about the boat accident injury claims process. We’re here to provide insights into the complex process of civil action.

Although boating deaths and injuries have gone down in recent years, 2020 was a record-shattering year for boating accidents, likely because of the pandemic. People were seeking alternative ways to get out of the house. If you were injured during this time period, it’s probably not too late to file a claim depending on the state in which you live. Each state has its own statute of limitations, so it’s worth seeking out a consultation with a personal injury lawyer to see if you can proceed with a lawsuit.

Operator inattention or inexperience was the leading cause of boating accidents, according to 2020 reports released by the U.S. Coast Guard. Other primary contributors in the report that resulted in accidents, injuries, and deaths were improper lookout, excessive speed, alcohol use, machinery failure, the force of wave or wake, hazardous waters, and the weather. Of course, additional factors can come into play in a boating accident lawsuit, so let’s take a look at the boat accident injury claims process.

Proving negligence

Suppose you get injured on a motorboat, sailboat, or personal watercraft such as a jet ski or kayak. In that case, you must prove another party was negligent to recover money for your injury or damages. You and your attorney must prove the other party neglected to act with reasonable care, and as a result, you were hurt. Liability for an accident boils down to who was careful and who was careless. 

Boat operators have responsibilities to guests and other boaters. Maritime law is complex and has legal principles that date back to the Phoenicians. The premise is that the owner must exercise ordinary or reasonable care to ensure others are not injured just with any kind of property.

However, figuring out what reasonable care is on a boat is more complex. A boat is inherently more dangerous than, say, your living room. You have the waves, weather, other boaters, and you’re surrounded by water. Under the law, boats must be safe, but not absolutely safe. You must also take some responsibility for your own safety as an invited guest on a boat or while operating a boat. 

How do boating negligence claims work?

There are common types of boating accidents, so it’s easier to explain the process once these are identified. Typical boating accidents are as follows:

  • Your boat hits another vessel
  • Your boat hits another vessel’s wake
  • Your boat hits a wave
  • Your boat hits something that is submerged

Your boat hits another vessel

If you were in a collision with another vessel, frequently, both operators will be at least partially at fault. If you had guests on your boat, they could make a claim against you and the other party for their injuries. If you sustained injuries as the boat operator, you could only make a claim against the other party in most instances. The only caveat to this might be if one of your guests was the cause of the accident.

In the instance of a collision between a motorboat and sailboat, the motorboat’s operator will most likely be held liable due to what’s known as “The Rules of the Road.” These rules are standard safe boating practices that require motorboats to stay out of the way of sailboats.

Your boat hits another vessel’s wake

Federal and state boating laws dictate the operator keep a proper lookout. Failure to keep a proper lookout is among the top causes of boating accidents, as hitting a big wake can cause passengers to fall down or even fall overboard. If it’s found you were at fault for improper lookout, you would not have a good claim against the other party. However, liability for an accident caused by hitting a wake can depend on the size of the wake, boat speed, visibility, boat traffic conditions, and whether the captain issued a warning before hitting the wake.

Additionally, the party that created the wake could be held liable depending on the location of the accident. For example, marinas and harbors are typical “no wake” zones. If the other boat operator was speeding around a high traffic area or ignored the rules of the no-wake zone, they could be sued for your injuries.

Your boat hits a wave

Just like hitting a wake, hitting a wave can cause people to be tossed around and get injured. However, in this case, to prove another party was responsible will depend on the same factors as previously described in the wake scenario.

Your boat hits something that is submerged

In this instance, liability will again depend on the circumstances. Even under the best conditions, it’s possible to hit something that is submerged. However, the boat operator could be held liable if they were engaging in reckless behavior such as speeding the boat around in dense fog or being willfully ignorant about dangers easily identified by charts or GPS.

Lack of the proper safety equipment aboard the vessel 

Finally, lack of safety equipment is rarely the cause of an accident, but even small pleasure boats are required to have basic safety equipment according to law. Life jackets, for example, are required to be available for all aboard. If the simple life jacket protocol was not followed and someone falls overboard and drowns, the boat owner or operator could be liable for wrongful death.

What if I was injured on a rental boat?

If you were injured in a crash involving a boat rental, there are a few things to examine. The biggest hurdle to filing a claim against a boat rental company is the waiver you likely signed as a condition of renting the boat. These waivers release the boat rental company from liability and typically have some form of a statement that says you understand the risks. However, even with a signed waiver, the boat rental company could be held liable if it can be proved the boat was unsafe, for example. When operating a boat rental company, the law requires the rental company to have annual inspections of the vessels, life jackets for every passenger, fire extinguishers, distress signaling devices, navigation lights, backfire flame arrestors, and sound-producing devices aboard.

Furthermore, a boat rental company could be held liable for injuries if they rented the boat to obviously intoxicated persons, underage persons or knowingly rented an undersized vessel for the number of passengers indicated in the signing agreement.

The boat accident injury claims process

Once the negligent party has been identified, the boat accident injury claims process can begin in earnest. You may think it’s just a matter of filing a claim against the other party’s insurer, but filing on your own may result in less compensation than you’re entitled to because the insurance companies can be tricky. You should never enter into a settlement agreement with an insurance company that turns out to be in their favor, not yours.

At this point, you’ll want to seek out an attorney to represent you for negotiations and the court process if it comes to that. An attorney will serve the insurance company with a lawsuit and collect all of the evidence needed to support your claim. Evidence can include all medical bills and accident reports and needs to be made available to the defendant. 

The proper paperwork must be filed with the appropriate courts, and there are deadlines to follow. You will need to make a deposition, and the defendant will do the same. At this point forward, everything you say will be under oath, so it’s crucial to have an attorney to advise you of your rights. Additionally, the courts expect people filing civil lawsuits to have already tried everything to negotiate a settlement outside of court before proceeding.

Why hire Morgan & Morgan attorneys for my boating accident?

Morgan & Morgan boat accident lawyers can negotiate a better deal for you by reputation alone. The insurance companies know us to be hard fighters for the people, and we’re ready to take your injury claim all the way to trial if they don’t act fairly. Why settle for less if your case is worth more?

Fortunately, the majority of personal injury claims are settled successfully out of court because going to court is costly for insurance companies. Even so, having a Morgan & Morgan attorney by your side early in the process during negotiations is extremely valuable because of our expertise in maritime law and vast resources to build your case.

In just the last year, we’ve resolved over 70,000 personal injury cases successfully, and throughout our time practicing law, we’ve recovered more than $10 billion for our clients. Beyond that, we are known to be fighters for the everyday person. We believe in families protecting families. In fact, despite being one of the largest law firms in the U.S., we’re still family-owned and operated. We gain a lot of our business just from referrals which says a lot about the trust people have in us. We’re ready to earn your trust too! Contact us today for a free, no-risk case evaluation. We’re here to do the heavy lifting and get you the compensation you need to get back to normal. 

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