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Watercraft Injuries: Who’s Liable?


Posted in Recreational Wreckage on July 13, 2017


Liability and injuries on land are more common than watercraft injuries to the average person going about their daily lives. While we don’t wish for watercraft injuries on anyone, they do occur and it’s something we all understand can happen to just about any person. When they do occur, it is usually pretty easy for our lawyers to know what has happened and who is to blame for the accident due to the wealth of knowledge and information at our disposal. How can you tell who is liable, and who isn’t, when sometimes, you can’t even see the person or object responsible?

Types of Watercraft Injuries and Accidents

For starters, let’s go over what is considered a watercraft accident or injury. An accident with a watercraft is generally classified as one when a vessel or vehicle is on the water (i.e. not a boat being towed behind a truck on land). This includes large crafts to jet skis, covering everything in between. Now, that is not to say every type of injury that occurs on the water is a watercraft injury, as that is up to each respective party to try to argue whether the accident at issue should or should not be classified as a watercraft injury. In addition, being near water vessels and injured may be a different area of law.

Accident Procedures on the Water

While the operation of a watercraft varies from an automobile significantly, procedures following an accident are relatively similar. Regardless of the type of craft you are riding in when an accident occurs, you should try to remember some general procedures so that you are prepared if you are involved in an accident. For starters, make sure everyone involved in the accident is okay. Otherwise, call 911 immediately. Next, be careful about any statements made while you wait for the authorities to show up (this can take a bit longer on the water in some cases). You should never admit fault of any sort at the scene of an accident, even apology statements. These statements can severely damage any claim you might try to file and may go as far as flipping the liability on you. In addition, make sure both yourself and other involved parties are relocated to a safe place near the accident scene. This is sometimes difficult to pull off on the water, but is imperative. Do your best to find a life vest for everyone involved if the situation calls for it. Be sure to exchange contact and insurance information with those involved. This may not always be readily accessible for a pedestrian, but do the best you can with the situation. Following the arrival by the police, do your best to stay calm and represent the truth of the incident for the police report.

Post-Accident Procedures

Depending on your situation, you may be considering legal recourse following a watercraft injury. Before you go forward with any lawsuits, be sure to seek out medical attention for both known and undiscovered injuries. Knowing the extent of your injuries is the first step towards legal recovery, as well as ensuring your mental and physical health in the future. During this process, disclose past injuries, medical conditions and the progress or decline you are currently experiencing with the injuries related to your injury to your medical professional. Feel free to save and collect any medical records during this process so as to protect the information in anticipation of litigation. Beyond your medical professional, be careful whom you give statements to regarding the accident. Know that you do not and should not give a recorded statement to any insurance company, including yours. These statements will likely be used against you to lessen the financial impact on the insurance company.

Claiming Liability

So, how do you prove that someone else caused the problem and that you deserve compensation for accidents and injuries? For that, you must first prove negligence. Claiming negligence can be tricky though, as injury alone does not mean that negligence is fully proven. To claim it, one must prove that their injuries were a direct result of an act or lack of act by the other party. This can be seen in many different instances, which include but are not limited to: boat collisions, wakes of a boat hitting another boat, unseen objects causing damage, etc. Now, keep in mind, this does not always mean there will be another party directly involved that you will be filing against. Sometimes, it can be unseen objects such as rocks or objects or land. Now, it is quite a bit harder to file against unseen and inanimate objects, as the only party injured or claiming would be mostly at fault. It comes down to this: if you collide with an unseen object and were following all safety protocols, then you might have a stronger case.

There are also laws and regulations in place depending on what kind of watercraft has been involved in an accident. For example, if a sailboat and motorboat get into an accident, more often than not, the motorboat will be liable. This is due to the “Rules of the Road,” or rules of the water, between crafts. These small regulations are generally unknown, so keeping them in mind is always good.

There are also other cases of negligence where you can claim if the boat is not properly equipped with the correct safety gear. Items such as life jackets, rope, flares, whistles, etc., are all included under that banner. If, for any reason, it is found to be that these are missing in case of an emergency, then that is a possible claim for negligence.

If you feel like you have a potential watercraft injury claim based on this article, be sure to reach out to our first-class attorneys for a consultation.