Boating is a popular pastime in the US, with about 17 million recreational boats in use. That means about one in ten households own a boat.
Going out on the water is a great way to enjoy fishing, waterskiing, and other water sports or simply relaxing in the great outdoors. But a boat accident could put an end to that pleasant boat trip, leaving you with serious injuries, chronic pain, and financial losses.
Do You Need a Boat Accident Attorney After Your Accident?
When you’ve been injured in a boating accident, you may find yourself struggling with medical bills, doctor’s appointments, pain and discomfort, and, in some cases, an inability to work while you recover.
The last thing you need is to be shortchanged by an insurance company or told that your injuries are all your fault, but unfortunately, these are just a few problems that people may run into after a boating accident. A boat accident attorney can help you navigate these and other difficulties and fight to secure the settlement you need to help you recover.
Who Caused Your Boat Accident?
Answering this question can prove to be a challenging task, particularly when the accident occurred in a remote area with no witnesses. However, there can also be confusion after accidents that occurred near the shore with multiple witnesses.
Seeing an accident happen doesn’t necessarily mean knowing what caused it, and often, the injured party isn’t sure what happened. While determining the cause can be difficult, it’s also essential to recovering your damages.
Contacting a boat accident lawyer as soon as possible will make it easier to establish fault. Your lawyer’s investigative team will immediately look into the accident, studying any incident reports from the Coast Guard or other local agencies.
They will interview witnesses while the accident is fresh in their memories and also search for other evidence, such as video from a phone, security camera, or doorbell camera. Additionally, they will request data from the boat’s event data recorder, which can reveal important details like the speed of the boat, its direction, and actions taken by the boat’s driver.
By putting together all this evidence, your legal team will work to establish liability and build a solid case to present to the insurance company or in court if necessary.
Will Boat Insurance Cover Your Damages?
In some situations, yes. After establishing liability, we will check to see if the liable party has an insurance policy that may cover your damages.
It’s important to understand that there are probably more potentially liable parties than you might think, such as:
- The boat’s owner. In a single-craft accident, the boat owner’s insurance may cover passenger injuries regardless of liability if the policy includes Medical Payments coverage or MedPay. However, insurance policies vary in their coverage, and sometimes, the owner’s policy will not cover your medical bills or other damages. If the boat owner is liable, you might be able to seek compensation by suing them directly.
- A business. Often, the business owns the boat, and the injured person rented it or was a passenger. The client may tell us they signed a waiver and the business isn’t liable, but this is only sometimes true. If you rented a boat and you or another party were at fault for the accident, then the business probably isn’t liable. However, the business could be liable if their negligence was to blame – for example, if they failed to perform needed repairs on the boat and its poor condition caused the accident. In this situation, we may be able to recover from the business’ liability insurance.
- The boat’s driver. If the person driving the boat was negligent, this is sometimes still a liability issue for the owner. For instance, if the owner allowed someone who was not qualified to drive the boat, they may be at fault. In these cases, the boat owner’s insurance may or may not cover your damages, depending on coverage. If not, you could pursue a claim against the boat’s driver, but this might not be a good solution if the driver has few financial resources.
- Another boat’s driver or owner. If you were in a collision with another boat, and that boat’s driver was at fault, they may be liable. However, if the boat owner’s insurance covers your accident, this will likely be the easiest path to recovering your damages. Establishing the other boat driver was at fault is crucial in these cases – if you’re seeking coverage through the other boat’s liability insurance, the adjuster can deny the claim if they believe your boat’s driver was responsible.
- A passenger. Occasionally, we see cases where a passenger behaved thoughtlessly or recklessly and caused an accident. For instance, a passenger who is horsing around might accidentally shove another person overboard. If that person hits their head or suffers other injuries, the reckless passenger could be at fault. Again, it will be difficult to collect on a judgment if this person doesn’t have many assets we can seize, but in some instances, the boat owner’s insurance might cover your injuries.
- A third party. In some cases, a third party that performed maintenance on the boat incorrectly may be liable if this botched repair caused your accident. If an intoxicated boater caused the accident, we may be able to seek compensation from a bar or business that overserved them in some situations.
Should You File an Insurance Claim After Your Boat Accident?
You should speak with a qualified boat accident lawyer before filing an insurance claim for several reasons:
- If you are the boat’s owner, you may need to file a claim with your own insurance. However, insurance company adjusters often look for excuses to reject or undervalue a claim. Your lawyer will help you make a list of all your damages and what they’re worth to ensure you seek the right amount of compensation. Additionally, they can review your claim or file it for you to help reduce the risk of a claim denial.
- If you are not the boat’s owner, you may need to determine liability before filing an insurance claim. As you can see from the list above, there are many potentially liable parties, and it’s not easy to choose the right one on your own. Your lawyer can assist you with identifying the at-fault party and filing a claim with their insurance.
- If the insurance adjuster denies your claim or offers you too little for your damages, your attorney can negotiate for a more appropriate settlement.
What Should You Do if You’ve Already Received an Offer From an Insurance Company?
Please speak with an attorney before accepting any offer from an insurance carrier – especially if you received an offer relatively quickly after your accident. This often indicates that the insurance adjuster knows their client was liable, and there is probably extensive evidence pointing to this fact.
As a result, the adjuster doesn’t believe it would be worthwhile to try to blame the accident on you. Instead, they make an offer for less than your damages are worth, knowing that most people don’t have the knowledge necessary to calculate their own damages accurately.
An experienced attorney does, and we can advise you if the offer doesn’t fully cover your losses. If you like, we can then negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf to secure a more complete settlement.
How Can You Reduce the Risk of Injury or Death in a Boating Accident?
One of the best ways to reduce your risk is to always wear a lifejacket out on the water, no matter how skilled you are as a swimmer. If you are thrown into the water and suffer an injury, the lifejacket can keep you afloat until rescuers arrive to help you.
In fact, the US Coast Guard reports that about 75 percent of fatal boating accidents involve drownings. Often, these incidents take place in good weather conditions when boaters don’t expect to have an accident or be ejected from the boat.
Unfortunately, accidents can still occur in these situations, so wearing a lifejacket is the best strategy for safety.
In addition to life jackets, an Engine Cut-Off Switch (ECOS) is recommended if you will be operating the boat. This switch is linked to a small lanyard clipped onto the operator’s lifejacket or clothing.
If the operator gets too far away from the operating area, the engine automatically shuts down.
Having an ECOS can save your life if you’re unexpectedly ejected from the boat in an accident and end up in the path of the boat. Certain types of boats are required to have an ECOS installed, but it’s up to the operator to use the link correctly.
Here are some other tips for safe boating:
- Don’t drink and drive your boat. It’s essential for the boat operator to stay alert and able to react quickly in emergencies, and in most states, boating with a blood alcohol level over .08 percent is illegal. If you want to enjoy some drinks on the water, arrange to have a designated driver.
- In the same vein, avoid texting and boating. Some people think this habit is less dangerous on the water, but a moment’s distraction can lead to a collision on a lake the same way it can on a highway. If you’ll be out for a while, it’s helpful to bring a second qualified boat operator so you can take breaks to check your messages or just relax.
- Using an observer or lookout in addition to a boat operator can give you an extra set of eyes. Sometimes, the observer may notice something farther out or to the side that you didn’t because you were focused on the water in front of you.
- Periodically check all safety equipment on your boat using a checklist to be certain you’ve covered everything. In addition to ensuring you have the needed items, inspect and test them to be confident they still work. You don’t want to discover that your horn no longer makes noise or that your throwable flotation devices have gone missing in an actual emergency.
- Avoid overloading your boat. Smaller power boats (less than 20 feet long) are required to carry a capacity plate explaining the maximum safe number of adult riders. If your boat doesn’t have one, you can calculate the number yourself. Carrying more passengers beyond this limit increases the risk of swamping or overturning the boat. It’s also important to remember that if you’re carrying heavy equipment or cargo, your passenger capacity may be reduced.
- Don’t speed, and obey posted signs about wake speed when you get closer to the shore. The faster you’re going, the harder it will be to stop if you spot an obstruction.
- Take a boater education course, even if you already feel that you know what you’re doing. Brushing up on your skills and refreshing your knowledge of local laws never hurts. If your family will be boating with you, sign them up for the course as well.
How to Get Help From a Boat Accident Law Firm
When you’ve been injured in a boat accident, you need someone on your side – and that’s not going to be the insurance company adjuster. Please contact The Fakhouri Firm Accident and Injury Lawyers at (312) 999-9990 for a free, confidential consultation about your boat accident.
We’ll review your case, answer your questions, help you determine your damages, and explain the options for recovering compensation. If we take your case, we’ll fight to get you the settlement you deserve, and you won’t owe us anything until we win or settle your case.
Founder and lead attorney Robert S. Fakhouri graduated from the Chicago-Kent College of Law and honed his skills as a litigation associate before founding The Fakhouri Firm Accident and Injury Lawyers. Since then, he has worked tirelessly to help injured people obtain the compensation they need.
To that end, he has recovered millions of dollars for injured clients. In his spare time, he makes informative posts about legal topics for his many social media followers.