If you were injured in a boating accident, you’re not alone. In one recent year, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that more than 4,000 boating accidents took place in the nation, resulting in 626 deaths and 2,613 injuries. These accidents also resulted in about $42 million in property damages to the vessels themselves and other property involved. Almost all of the victims who died in these accidents drowned, and 85 percent of them weren’t wearing life jackets at the time of the accident. Most died on smaller boats—80 percent of those who drowned in boating accidents were in vessels that were less than 21 feet in length.
If you were among the thousands who found themselves injured in a boating accident, or if your loved one was among the hundreds who died on the water, there may be compensation available for you through a personal injury lawsuit. An experienced boating accident lawyer at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman can help you understand the legal options you have available to you.
Common Causes of Boating Accidents
According to the Coast Guard, alcohol impairment is one of the most common—and deadly—causes of boating accidents, contributing to about 17 percent of the deaths caused by these accidents. As it does to drivers of cars, alcohol impairment creates deficits in the skills that an individual needs to operate a boat safely, including concentration, the controlling of speed, the ability to see hazards and respond to them appropriately, and the ability to make good decisions.
For example, a man was charged with BUI (boating under the influence) manslaughter after an accident that occurred on St. Marks River. Authorities said four men were traveling north on the river in a boat when the driver made an unexpected turn that caused all four to be thrown into the water. One of the men was struck by the boat after he went into the water and died at the scene. The boat’s driver allegedly failed a field sobriety test and consented to a blood draw that found his blood alcohol concentration to be 0.13 to 0.14 at the time of the accident. As with other vehicles, the legal limit for operating a boat is 0.08.
Other common causes of boating accidents include:
- Operator inattention: The safe operation of a boat requires the operator to pay attention to many different things at once, including how the boat is running, what the weather is doing, whether there are hazards in the water that the operator needs to avoid, and if the people on the boat are handling the ride well. Failure to pay attention at all times can lead to a boating accident.
- Improper lookout: Even if the operator is paying attention to the task of driving the boat, he or she needs a lookout posted to see potential hazards that the operator may have missed. Improper lookout is one of the top causes of boating accidents.
- Speeding: Just as with other motor vehicles, a speeding boat is a recipe for disaster. Speeding not only reduces the operator’s ability to see and react to hazards, but also makes the collision with an obstacle such as a rock or another boat more severe.
- Operator inexperience: A lack of training on the part of the boat’s operator can result in serious hazards. All boat operators should have training on the basic rules regarding safe boat operation as well as how to handle emergencies before taking to the waterway. The Coast Guard reports that 71 percent of boating deaths occurred in situations where the operator had inadequate instruction into how to operate the boat.
- Lack of maintenance: Like other motor vehicles, boats require regular maintenance to run smoothly. Failing to maintain your boat and produce hazards to others in the water and can lead to collisions or cause you to be stranded in the water.
- Inclement weather: Weather produces not only increased dangers such as a lightning strike, but can also make the water unsafe for boat travel. Boaters should always be sure to check the weather before heading out, with the realization that conditions can—and often do—change rapidly.
- Operating in the wake of a larger boat: Boats make wakes—which are areas of water disturbance—when they pass. Often, the size of the wake depends on the size of the boat and how quickly it was moving. Operating in the wake of another boat can cause dangers including an overturned vessel or one that is hard to control.
- Sharp turns: The story mentioned at the beginning of the article involved an alcohol-impaired driver who made a sharp turn that resulted in himself and three other occupants falling from the boat. The Coast Guard reported that sharp turns were a factor in 43 accidents in a year’s time, resulting in five deaths and 34 injuries.
The Dangers of Boating Accidents
As previously mentioned, the top cause of death for individuals involved in boating accidents is drowning. By law, boaters are required to have a properly fitting and Coast Guard-approved life jacket for every person aboard the vessel. Life jackets, which are also known as personal flotation devices, not only keep the person afloat while in the water, but also are designed so that the person’s head above water.
While there is a requirement that there be enough properly sized life jackets for everyone on the vessel, most states only require children aged 13 and under to actually wear the life jacket while the boat is in operation. Otherwise, life jackets must simply be kept within reach and out of their original packaging.
Aside from the drowning risk posed by individuals involved in boating accidents who aren’t wearing their life jacket, boating accidents pose other risks as well, including:
- Exposure to elements: Those involved in a boating accident, particularly on larger waterways, often must wait a period of time to be rescued. Regardless of how warm the day is outside of the water, water can be quite cold, leaving an individual at risk of hypothermia. Additionally, waiting in the sun can cause heat exhaustion in some passengers. A boating accident during a storm can leave passengers battling in high and rough waves and may place them in danger of getting struck by lightning.
- Carbon dioxide: Boats produce carbon dioxide, which may reach dangerous levels in an accident. The passengers on the boat can be exposed to these dangerous fumes, resulting in illness or death.
- Propellers: The Coast Guard reports that, in 2015, there were 158 incidents where at least one individual was struck by the boat’s propeller. Propellers resulted in the deaths of 27 people and injuries to 150 more.
- Fire or explosion: Boats contain flammable fuel. In addition, many people bring flammable or explosive items onboard the vessel. In 2015, more than 200 accidents were caused by fires or explosions onboard the watercraft, resulting in death and serious burn injuries.
- Collision with another vessel: Many accidents occur each year due to boats colliding with other boats, including recreational, governmental, or commercial vessels. Speeding and alcohol impairment are often factors in these collisions. A collision with another vessel poses extreme dangers to occupants both from the collision itself, the risk of being struck by objects inside the boat, and the potential for the boat to take on water and capsize.
Common Boating Accident Injuries
What kinds of injuries can one suffer in a boating accident? Here is a list of some of the more common ones:
- Amputation from propellers or other jagged objects
- Broken bones from the impact of the collision or the propeller
- Burns from flammable or caustic fuels
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Electric shock
- Hypothermia from exposure to cold water
- Internal organ injury
- Spinal cord injury
Preventing Boating Accidents
While it is impossible to avoid every kind of boating danger that exists, there are some things you can do to prevent many accidents, and to avoid injury or death if you’re involved in a boating accident. Here are some tips:
- Take a boating safety course before operating a boat. Even if you’ve been shown the basic guidelines for boating operation, classes provide a wealth of additional information, such as navigational rules and emergency responses that work to keep you, your family, and friends safe.
- Wear a properly-fitted, Coast Guard-approved life jacket every time you’re in your boat, regardless of whether you’re required to do so by law or not. When boating with children aboard, it is important to have them in life jackets that are made for people their size. A child in an adult life jacket may have trouble keeping his or her head above water, and the jacket may even slip off in the water. Life jackets save lives.
- Always have someone serve as a lookout. A lookout is an extra pair of eyes that may be able to see potential hazards that you might miss.
- Alcohol and boating don’t mix. Don’t operate a boat while drunk and don’t get onto a boat that is operated by someone who is drinking.
- In addition to ensuring that you have life jackets for everyone aboard, store other safety equipment on your boat, including a first aid kit, emergency medical supplies, boat lights, a fire extinguisher, and an anchor.
- Pay attention to the weather. Don’t go out if there is a storm in the forecast.
- Use care when loading passengers and gear into the boat. Don’t overload the vessel and ensure that weight is evenly distributed to prevent the vessel from toppling over.
- Follow all boating safety and navigational rules. Maintain a safe speed and pay attention to what is going on around you.
What You Should Do if You’re in a Boating Accident
If you’ve experienced a boating accident, you need to do the following immediately, or as soon as possible:
- Check to see if anyone needs medical attention. If there are injured people aboard or your boat is disabled and you are unable to make it back to shore, you will need to call the Coast Guard for help.
- Get out of harm’s way. If the boat is still stable, it is best to get everyone back onto it until help arrives.
- If you’ve not done so already, contact the Coast Guard. They will need to know your location, as exact as possible. If there are serious injuries, they will be able to send medical help.
- If the accident involved more than one vessel, you must exchange contact information with the operators of the other vessel(s). Obtaining contact information for others who may have witnessed the accident may be helpful, as well.
- Photograph the scene if you’re able, including any visible injuries to people and damage to the boat.
- If you have an insurance policy for your boat, you will need to notify your carrier of the accident regardless of whether you wish to file a claim and regardless of who was at fault.
- Seek legal representation as soon as possible, particularly if you were injured in an accident that was caused by the careless or reckless actions of someone else.
Just as with any other type of motor vehicle accident, those suffering injuries due to a boating accident that was caused by a negligent operator must prove the following elements to their personal injury claim:
The boat operator owed you a duty of care. This duty of care is the type of behavior that a prudent boat operator would exhibit in similar circumstances.
There was a breach in this duty of care. The breach is what caused the danger to you, such as the operator driving the boat while drunk or driving it too fast.
This breach in care resulted in the accident, which caused your injuries.
Our Boating Accident Attorneys Want to Help You
If you were injured in a boating accident, let our experienced boat accident lawyers help you understand the legal process involved with filing a personal injury claim. You can easily reach Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH) or by contacting us online. Please call now so we can get started for you.
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