Boating Accidents & Liability: Who Is Responsible?

Recreational boating is popular throughout North and South Carolina, as there are hundreds of miles of waterways, lakes, and coastline for local residents and tourists to enjoy. However, whether it’s for fishing, water sports, the thrill of high speeds, or simply enjoying some leisurely time on the water, boating can pose risks of injury and death, especially when negligence is involved.

At Crumley Roberts, our personal injury lawyers are dedicated to providing the support and high-quality representation that victims and families need following preventable accidents, including those involving all types of boats and vessels throughout North and South Carolina. Given the unique nature of boats, boating laws, and laws involving civil personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, our legal team wanted to provide some important information about how boating accident cases work and about what we can do to protect victims’ rights.

Liability for Damages – As with any civil personal injury case, those arising from boating accidents are intended to hold parties accountable for causing preventable harm, often as a result of their negligent or wrongful acts, and to hold them financially liable for the damages victims suffer. Although every case is unique, our ultimate goal is to help victims and their families pursue financial compensation for the economic and non-economic damages they have suffered, which may include:

  • Physical pain and suffering;
  • Mental anguish and emotional injuries;
  • Expenses associated with medical treatment and projected costs for any future medical needs (i.e. future medical issues related to serious injuries or long-term/permanent disabilities);
  • Lost income/wages caused by missing work and any lost future income caused by a decreased ability to work and earn wages as before;
  • Emotional injuries suffered by family members, including lost companionship and emotional support; and
  • Wrongful death, including lost emotional and financial support, and burial or funeral expenses.

Proving Liability – Determining who is at fault for an accident and its resulting injuries and then proving liability are the main focal points of any personal injury lawsuit. In order to prevail in a case, victims and their attorneys must often work diligently to conduct necessary investigations into what happened and to prove whether the accident could and should have been prevented if not for the negligence of another. Generally, this requires victims to meet a few essential legal elements, including:

  • Proving a legal duty existed between defendant and victim (i.e. a defendant, such as a boat operator, owed the victim a “duty of care” to operate their vessel safely);
  • Proving that the defendant breached his or her legal duty (Defendants typically fail to uphold their duty of care as a result of negligence, such as when a boat operator is intoxicated or under the influence.);
  • Proving causation, or that the underlying negligent act and breach of duty more likely than not caused the accident and injury; and
  • Proving the damages suffered by the victims, including all economic and non-economic harms arising from their injuries.

Determining Which Party Is Responsible – As mentioned above, determining who is responsible for a boating accident and its resulting injuries and damages is a matter that requires personalized investigation into the facts and circumstances involved. While every case is unique and determinations over who can be held liable will depend on what happened in your case, there are some common scenarios that can provide insight into the parties and types of conduct that typically result in liability. Examples include:

  • Boat Operators – Whether it’s the operator of your boat or another recreational boater, boat operators all have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps in the safe operation of their vessel. As such, certain acts of negligence or violations of the law can result in boat operator liability. The most common examples include boaters who boat under the influence (BUI), travel at unsafe or excessive speeds, fail to see or pay attention to other boaters or individuals in the water, or operate boats without proper training, licensing, or qualifications, among other things.
  • Commercial Companies – There are many businesses that cater to the boating industry, whether that means renting boats and other vessels to consumers, renting safety gear or water sports equipment, providing cruise ship services, or taking paying customers on board for tours or other boating activities. These companies must abide the law and may be held liable for accidents and injuries that result from safety violations, failures to ensure the safety of equipment or vessels, unsafe conditions on their boats, negligent hiring or retention of untrained employees, and other negligent acts that lead to preventable harm.
  • Product Manufacturers – In boating accident cases where injuries are caused by unsafe or defective products that malfunction or fail to function as intended, victims and families may have the option to pursue the justice and compensation they deserve by pursuing a product liability lawsuit. Under product liability laws, manufacturers and others who make products available to consumers have an obligation to ensure the safety of those items. As such, they can be held liable when injuries stem from defectively designed, manufactured, or marketed boats, waters sports equipment, and other boating gear.

Boating season is in full swing across the Carolinas, which is why our legal team at Crumley Roberts is available 24/7 to speak with victims and families who would like more information about their legal rights following all types of preventable boating accidents. If you have questions about a potential case and wish to learn how our award-winning team may be able to help you,

please contact us for a free consultation.

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