I Was Hurt in a Boating Accident, Do I Have a Legal Claim?

Picture of a portion of a boat, in the ocean.

When a boating accident occurs, the first thing that will likely be considered is a negligence claim. In general, people have a duty to act with reasonable care. Negligence occurs when someone fails to do just that. To prove negligence, you also need to be able to show that the negligence of the other person was the cause of your injury, this is called proximate cause.

Boating accidents can occur for a variety of reasons, making some claims easier to prove than others. Some common examples are:

  • your boat hits another boat
  • an operator was intoxicated
  • an operator was inexperienced
  • your boat hits a submerged object
  • your boat hits another boat’s wake

If there is an accident with another boat, both operators can potentially be liable. Liability often depends on who is more at fault and what law is being applied. Other factors can also be really important here. Was one of the operators intoxicated or so inexperienced that they were not acting with reasonable care? If your boat hits a submerged object, the operator may be liable. Was the submerged object completely hidden, or could it have been seen with proper lookout?

It is also incredibly important to have proper training and safety equipment on the boat. A motorboat operator may be required to have some boating safety education, or some type of license. Certain safety equipment is also required. All boats should be equipped with life jackets. Some larger vessels may require different types of flotation devices. Other equipment such as fire extinguishers, horns or whistles, flame arrestors, and navigation lights may also be required. While this equipment may not directly affect the accident, it can have an effect on the rescue and safety after the accident. Not being prepared and having this equipment could still affect a claim.

Another aspect that needs to be considered when a boating accident occurs is: which law will apply? If an accident occurs on navigable waters, then federal law will likely apply. Navigable waters are waters that are being used or are capable of being used in interstate commerce. If a lake or body of water is solely inside North Carolina’s boarders, then it will most likely not be considered navigable water.

Applying federal maritime law will change the case and it may actually be a good thing for many cases. In North Carolina, we use the doctrine of contributory negligence. This ends a lot of claims early on, because if the injured party is at fault, in any measure, even one percent, they are usually barred from recovery. However, there are exception to even this. Whereas, federal law typically applies comparative fault. Comparative fault is a lot more flexible then contributory negligence and generally only reduces or prohibits recovery based on the percentage of fault attributed to the plaintiff.

Boating accidents can lead to complex cases. If you or a loved one has been hurt in a boating accident, please contact one of our attorneys at Jetton & Meredith.