Boat owners and operators are responsible for the safety of themselves and others out on the water. Failure to do so is negligence that could result in the injury or death of others, property damage, and a financially painful lawsuit.
If you've been a victim of a boating accident resulting from the negligence of boating operators, you could be eligible for compensation. Read on to learn more about your options, when to contact a lawyer, and what kind of compensation you could receive.
What are Common Causes of Boating Accidents?
Here are some common causes of boating accidents.
Lack of Boat Safety Training
Lack of boat safety training and maritime law knowledge is one of the biggest causes of boating accidents that lead to serious injury and death.
According to the Illinois Recreational Boating Report, most boating accidents occur on calm and clear summer afternoons. The majority of these are caused by individuals between the ages of 20 and 40 who have over 100 hours of boating experience - but have little-to-no boat safety training. This lack of knowledge is considered negligent.
If a boat operator does or doesn't know Illinois boat safety and maritime law and they choose to be reckless or careless in the operation of a boat, they can be held liable for their actions.
Boat operators must follow all posted speed limits, carry safety equipment, and follow all laws and regulations to the best of their ability. It is their responsibility to ensure the safety of all guests, property, and boaters in their vicinity.
Operating a Boat Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol
Operating a boat or other water vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is another common cause of boating accidents. Boat operators that cause boating accidents resulting from intoxication are subject to a sobriety test, just as an intoxicated driver would be. If their blood or breath alcohol level is above .08% or they refuse to take the sobriety test, then their boating privileges will be revoked.
This is all very important to be mindful of as a boat owner and operator, as these are things you could be held liable for. Lives are in your hands, and that's not something that should be taken lightly.
If You've Been Involved in a Boating Accident
If you were just in a boating accident or observed one, call 911 immediately so that everyone injured receives immediate medical care. Otherwise, contact your local non-emergency dispatch for assistance.
Reportable accidents include any boating accidents that result in:
- Personal Injury
- A Missing Person
- Property Damage
- or Total Vessel Loss
Not every boating-related accident is considered reportable within the scope of the definition of 'boating accident' by the National Recreational Boating Safety Program. They are, however, likely reportable to the state and local law enforcement. Such instances would include any violence or substance abuse that happens aboard a boat, any injuries resulting from poor choices made on a moored or docked vessel, any property damage that's a result of unrelated actors (i.e., fireworks, theft, vandalism), etc.
If you have been in or witnessed a boating accident, take pictures and collect any information you can at the scene- especially anything indicating intoxication or recklessness. Documenting this can help your case or the case of the person who you've just witnessed get injured.
Suppose you've been in a boating accident and suffered serious injuries, or your loved one died in a boating accident. In that case, you could be able to recover compensation through a personal injury lawsuit or a wrongful death lawsuit.
Who Can Be Held Liable in a Boating Accident?
There are many different causes for boating accidents and, therefore, many possible defendants. It's not necessarily always the boat operator's fault. Potential defendants in a boating accident lawsuit could include:
- The Boat Operator: If they cause injury through negligence or intoxication.
- Other Boat Operators: If another boat hit your boat or your person, they could be held liable.
- Boat Manufacturers: If faulty equipment causes an accident, a boat manufacturer can be held liable. This would be a product liability lawsuit and would typically be filed on behalf of the boat operator.
- Harbors and Marinas: If a harbor or marina is poorly maintained, has inaccurate or outdated signage, or lacks safety equipment, they can be held liable in an accident if these things contributed.
What to Do if You've Caused a Boating Accident
If you are responsible for the boating accident, according to the Illinois Boat Registration and Safety Act (625 ILCS 45/6), you are expected to:
- Stop the boat immediately
- Help anyone affected or injured in the accident and call 911 dispatch to get medical help to the scene as soon as possible.
- Provide your name, address, and vessel information to the injured and any property owners.
- Notify the nearest police station or sheriff's office within an hour of the accident or within one hour of being discharged from a hospital if you are injured and were unable to report immediately following the accident.
It is a Class A misdemeanor in Illinois if you don't comply with these terms following a boating accident. If anyone was injured (anything beyond simple first aid) and you fail to comply, it is a Class 4 felony. If the boating accident ended in death and you fail to comply, you could face a Class 2 felony punishable by 3 to 4 years in prison.
In addition to the responsibilities listed above, for any boating accident causing property damage of more than $2,000 or more, you must complete and submit a report within five days to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. If any injuries require medical attention beyond first aid, you must complete and submit a report to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources within 48 hours.
Suppose you are the boat operator responsible for the accident that caused injury or death. In that case, you will be required by law to submit to chemical testing by the investigating law enforcement officer. If you don't submit to the chemical testing or fail the chemical test, your motorboat operator's Illinois driver's license will be suspended.
Getting Compensation for Boating Accident Injuries
If you are a victim of a boating accident, you could file a lawsuit and receive compensation for any personal injuries or property damage that resulted from the accident. Boating accidents that result in personal injury or death are taken very seriously in Illinois. A boat operator who fails to comply with laws and regulations could be looking at felony charges and prison time. As a victim, you have a right to receive compensation. However, boating lawsuits are a complex process that requires the help of an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Collecting evidence is essential for a boating accident lawsuit. There must be proof of a direct link to the boating accident to obtain any compensation for injury or damages. This could include eyewitness testimony, photographs of the scene, reports from law enforcement, reports submitted to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, etc.
As the injured party, your status on the vessel and the location of the accident will also be evaluated. There are different weights taken into account for the status of an injured party, depending on whether they were a guest, employee, or another boat operator/owner. Additionally, the law under which the lawsuit falls is determined by the location of the accident. If it happens close to the Illinois shore, Illinois and federal laws could be used. If the accident is further from shore or closer to Canada, international maritime law may be used.
When you are in a boating accident, your lawyer will work to help you recover both economic and non-economic damages. The goal is to provide you with financial compensation that covers everything that was affected by the accident. This could include compensation for:
- Medical expenses
- Rehabilitation expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Lost wages
- Loss of consortium, on behalf of family members
- Wrongful death, on behalf of family members
- Property damage
- Punitive damage (typically in extreme cases)
An experienced personal injury lawyer at Cooney & Conway will be able to help iron out the details and represent you with excellence to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.
When You Need a Boat Accident Lawyer
The simple answer is: You need a personal injury lawyer following any boat accident in which someone was seriously injured, died, or there was property damage involved. An experienced lawyer can use their knowledge and experience to determine which statutes, laws, and jurisdictions apply to your claim and help settle your case with the compensation you deserve.
Boating is regulated at the state, federal, and international levels. In Illinois, boat operators must be aware of all three levels of maritime law, as the state neighbors Canada. Consequently, so must Illinois personal injury lawyers that are representing plaintiffs in boating accident lawsuits. Boating accident lawsuits can be complex due to the many state, federal, and international laws and regulations. An experienced lawyer will help you gather all evidence necessary to help win your case or settlement. This could include photographs, incident reports, witness statements, medical records, and testimonies.
At Cooney & Conway, our personal injury lawyers are educated in boating laws and regulations and have a wealth of experience in this area. We are prepared to use this knowledge and experience on your behalf. If you find yourself in need of a personal injury lawyer, fill out our free case evaluation to get the process started with our team of lawyers at Cooney & Conway!
Qualifications for a Boating Lawsuit
Boating accident lawsuits require proof of negligence, reckless and careless operation on the part of the boat operator, or proof that the boating operator was under the influence. Examples of this can include taking waves at excessive speeds, failing to carry safety equipment on board, failing to know boating rules as required by the FFWCC, overcrowding a vessel, etc. Being able to prove this is essential for your boating accident case.
Additionally, you must file your claim within the Illinois statute of limitations for boating accidents. Failure to do so could result in your case being dismissed and leave you without compensation for your injuries. Hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible goes a long way when it comes to the successful settlement of your case.
The reality is that anyone who was injured in a boating accident can file a lawsuit, but those who have the best chance of winning their case have great documented proof and an even better lawyer.