There has been a substantial rise in the number of boaters out on the water. The massive spike in recreational boating has been attributed to the pandemic, as so many Americans were looking for something different to do during a time when social distancing was encouraged throughout the country. In fact, 2020 saw new boat sales hit a 13-year high, as the National Marine Manufacturers Association said that there were 415,000 first-time boat buyers entering the market that year.
Yet it may come as no surprise that the increase in boats has also led to an unfortunate rise in boating accidents. The numbers are staggering. According to the United States Coast Guard’s 2020 Recreational Boating Statistics Report, accidents were up over 26 percent in 2020 (5,265 total incidents). On top of this, the number of non-fatal injured victims was up nearly 25 percent (3,191). According to the Coast Guard, the five leading contributing factors in accidents were operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed, and machinery failure.
An injury from a boating accident can lead to a number of concerns. The injured person may have to visit a number of doctors for the coming months for treatment of their injuries or need to spend hundreds of hours in physical therapy. Additionally, they may be unable to work as a result of their injuries and need to make significant adjustments to their daily life. Then there are the important legal considerations. Following a boating accident, a victim may want to know their options. What kinds of injury or damage can they sue for after a boating accident? What steps do they need to take in order to get the restitution they deserve for their pain and suffering? We are here to help guide you through those questions.
Recovering for Personal Injury, Lost Wages, and Property
Boating accidents often lead to injuries, whether it is broken bones that take months to heal or more debilitating injuries that can lead to permanent distress. When someone is injured in a boating accident, they can seek restitution for their suffering. This can be done through filing a lawsuit through the court, or by filing a claim through the offending party’s insurance company (assuming they have insurance that covers boating accidents.)
Filing a personal injury lawsuit holds the at-fault party responsible for their negligence. When filing a personal injury lawsuit for injuries caused by a boating accident, there are four elements that need to be proven. First, you must prove that the defendant in a case had a duty of care and had an obligation to protect the other party from foreseeable harm. Then, you must prove that the defendant was negligent. Third, you must show that actual damages occurred. Finally, you must prove that the defendant’s negligence and their breach of their duty of care was the direct cause of the damages.
There are a number of aspects that a court or insurance company will consider when providing compensation for personal injuries suffered in a boating accident. First, and arguably most straightforward, is providing compensation for medical bills incurred as a result of an accident. It goes without saying that the medical bills that can result from an accident–whether boating, automotive, or otherwise—can prove quite costly. From doctor’s visits to X-rays to physical therapy to prescriptions to surgeries, the costs can add up quickly, piling up into the tens of thousands or even more. In a personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff can seek compensation for those bills.
Additionally, in a personal injury case for a boating accident, a plaintiff can seek compensation for future medical bills related to the incident. As countless people unfortunately know, many injuries simply do not just go away. Individuals who have been involved in accidents may face years or a lifetime of recovery, whether they need ongoing physical therapy for debilitating back pain or future surgeries for a broken bone in their leg that simply could not heal correctly. Whatever the case may be, a plaintiff has the ability to receive compensation for future medical bills that they may incur as a result of a boating accident.
There are other ways that a plaintiff can collect compensation in a personal injury lawsuit. Many times when someone is injured in an accident, they are unable to return to work for weeks or months—sometimes even permanently. In a personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff can seek compensation for not only lost wages as a result of their injuries but also for lost future potential earnings as well. In addition to this, a plaintiff can seek compensation for diminished quality of life.
Lastly, when someone is involved in a boating accident, they can also seek compensation for property that was damaged as a result of the incident. This could mean damage to their vessel, personal property that was on their vessel, or any other type of property that may have been hurt as a result of the accident.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
As previously noted, boating accidents have sharply risen—and along with the rise in accidents, there has also been a stark increase in boating fatalities. According to the United States Coast Guard’s 2020 Recreational Boating Statistics Report, there were sadly 767 boating fatalities in the country in 2020. This figure represented a 25.1 percent increase from the number of fatalities that occurred in 2019. Overall, according to the report, the total fatality rate was 6.5 per 100,000 vessels. The report also indicated that alcohol was the leading contributing factor to fatal accidents in 2020, having led to more than 100 deaths and nearly 20 percent of all total boating fatalities.
In the event that a loved one is killed in a boating accident, a spouse or family member has the ability to file a wrongful death claim against the at-fault party for causing their death through either a negligent or intentional act. With a wrongful death lawsuit, a plaintiff can seek compensation for a number of reasons. First, they can seek compensation for medical expenses that resulted from the accident. Additionally, they can seek expenses for both the funeral and burial of their loved one, compensation for the loss of their loved one’s expected earnings, as well as loss of inheritance, medical insurance, pension plans, and other benefits that the decedent may have had. Further, plaintiff(s) can seek compensation for the loss of care and the loss of companionship provided by the deceased, and spouses filing lawsuits can also seek compensation for loss of consortium.
Collecting Evidence for the Case
When someone is involved in a boating accident, it is important to be diligent and to gather as much information as possible. Just like with a vehicular accident, they should take down the information of everyone involved with the accident. This means getting both the registration numbers and insurance information of the boat(s) involved. Additionally, they should collect the contact information (phone, email, etc.) of everyone at the site, whether they were operating the boat, a passenger on the boat, or just a passerby who observed the accident. This is important because it brings in as many witness accounts as possible and can ultimately strengthen your case either in court or with the at-fault party’s insurance provider.
When a boating accident occurs, it is also important to collect as much immediate evidence as possible. Take photographs and videos of what has happened, documenting each and every injury there is. Take pictures of every scratch, bruise, and physical ailment that resulted from the incident. On top of this, make sure to document the damage to the boat. Finally, it is imperative to report the boating accident to the appropriate state authority. In Delaware this is the Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police, in Maryland it is the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. (A complete list of state boating authorities is available here.) Reporting a boating accident is mandatory under both federal law as well as Delaware and Maryland state law if either a person dies, disappears, or requires medical treatment that goes beyond the administration of first aid. In addition, the accident must be reported if there is a complete loss of the vessel, or if damage to the boat/other property is a certain amount (over $2,000 under federal law, differing amounts depending on the state). When you report the accident to these authorities, an accident report will be created—and this will become a key piece of evidence as your case goes forward with the courts or the at-fault party’s insurance provider.
If you or a loved one has been hurt as a result of a boating accident, the experienced attorneys of Morris James can help you as you handle your legal needs. Contact one of our experienced team members at your local Morris James office or by using our online contact form today.