Safe Boating is No Accident
A day on a boat can be relaxing and fun. But boating accidents can cause lifelong injury or even death. The Coast Guard reported that, in 2013, there were 4,062 accidents, including 2,620 injuries, 560 deaths, and $39 million in property damage. Additionally, 22 children under the age of 13 lost their lives while boating. Eight of them drowned, and 5 who drowned were not wearing a life jacket, the wearing of which is required by law.
In our state, the Maryland Natural Resources Police recorded 156 vessels involved in 127 accidents, with 65 cases of injuries and 14 fatalities. Maryland ranks number 9 in recreational boating accidents, and number 11 in fatalities nationwide. Open motorboats, personal watercraft, and cabin motorboats were the most-reported vessels in accidents (46 percent, 18 percent, and 17 percent, respectively).
These statistics are not numbers to be happy about.
Reasons for Boating Mishaps
Alcohol is the leading cause of boating fatalities, occurring in 16 percent of deaths. But boating accidents can also occur because of the following factors. Note how many involve “operator error”:
- Reckless operation or inattentiveness
- Operator inexperience
- Excessive speed
- Collisions with boats or other objects
- Machinery failure.
Liability in an Accident
In general, fault in a boating accident is assigned to the person whose actions caused or contributed to the incident. Any person operating a boat is obligated to act within a certain standard of care, which includes responsibility for all passengers and operating the boat in a safe and legal manner. Not to do so can be considered negligence. When this standard of care is neglected, the responsible party can be forced to pay damages to those who were injured due to his or her negligent actions.
The legal concept of negligence is four-fold:
- The first aspect requires the plaintiff (victim) to show he was owed the duty of the exercise of care, meaning obeying boating laws and operating the vessel safely according to weather and other conditions.
- The second aspect requires the plaintiff to show that there was a breach in the requisite care. This can include such things as operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- The third aspect requires the plaintiff to show that the breach of care directly caused the injuries. The plaintiff must prove that he or she would not otherwise have been injured.
- The fourth aspect requires a plaintiff to show evidence of the damages. Damages that can be recovered include medical expenses, lost wages, loss of ability to earn, and so on.
Note that victims can be held partially liable if they were engaged in reckless behavior at the time of the accident.
Boating Regulations & Laws
Boat operators must follow strict regulations concerning personal flotation devices (PFDs). Given that an estimated 90 percent of boat drowning deaths occur without a life vest, this requirement is easy to understand. Each boat must carry a Coast Guard-approved life vest for every passenger of Type I, II, III, or V. All vessels that are 16 feet or longer must also carry a throwable life jacket (Type IV).
While adults are not required to wear their personal floatation devices (PFDs) at all times, most states require children under a certain age to wear a life vest at all times. The states that do not have life jacket laws are covered under a blanket federal law, which requires that children under the age of 13 who are on federal waterways must wear PFDs at all times.
In Maryland, all children under the age of 13 must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket of Type I, II, III, or V while on a recreational vessel under 21 feet long. Special regulations exist for children under the age of 4, as they are required to wear life jackets with the following features:
- The jacket must firmly hold the child and include a strap that goes between the legs to fasten the jacket’s front to its back.
- The jacket must have an inflatable headrest or high collar to hold the child’s head out of the water.
- The jacket must include a web handle to ensure ready access to the child while he or she is in the water.
Accident reporting requirements are generally quite strict: when someone is killed or requires more than basic first aid or damage occurs to the boat, a report must be filed with the state boating administrator. Federal law requires that accidents resulting in damage over $2,000 must be reported, but many states have lower damage thresholds and require reporting of any boating accident within 48 hours for death, missing persons or severe injury and ten days when property or the vessel itself is damaged.
Boating Safely: Know Before You Go
Check out these links for more information regarding boating safety and regulations in Maryland:
- Maryland State requirements for recreational vessels
- Mandatory education and age requirements
- An equipment checklist as to what’s required for various kinds of vessels
- Boating safety programs from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources
- The Official Maryland Boater Safety Education Course
Finally, remember the three “B”s of boating:
- Boat safe.
- Boat smart.
- Boat sober.
Do You Need Help with a Boating Accident?
If you or a loved one were injured or killed due to a boating accident, you could be eligible for compensation to cover your injuries. Depending on liability and negligence factors, you could recover money associated with the treatment of your injuries, lost wages, wrongful death, or future medical care. If you’re interested in filing an accident claim, contact the law offices of Steven H. Heisler today or call him at (410) 625-4878. Steven H. Heisler has dedicated his legal practice to the representation of personal injury victims, including those hurt or killed in boating accidents. Contact him today for more information on whether your boating claim will hold water.
$5,500,000.00 - Steve represented a 33-year-old single mother of one whose vehicle was struck head-on by a construction truck in 2002. The client suffered life threatening injuries and was in a coma for six weeks. She required two months of brain injury rehabilitation. The client currently has serious permanent disabilities as a result of the accident including short term memory loss, impaired speech, double vision, and right side paralysis.
She is unable to return to her occupation as a dental hygienist or any other occupation. Steve Heisler and his associate Keith Kauffman negotiated a $5.5 million structured settlement at mediation. Should the client reach her life expectancy the payout increases to $9.5 million.
$250,000 - Steve represented the family of a 15 year old Anne Arundel County boy who was killed when the vehicle he was a passenger in failed to negotiate a curve and struck a tree. The defendant driver was also killed. Another passenger survived the crash. The defendant driver had a $300,000.00 liability policy. Steve negotiated a $250,000.00 settlement for the family. The remaining $50,000.00 was tendered to the surviving passenger.
$800,000 - Steve represented the estate and family of a 45 year old man who was killed when the motorcycle he was riding struck a guardrail and he was catapulted down an embankment. The estate and family alleged that a vehicle in the lane to the immediate left of the man swerved into his lane and caused a collision. The defendant strongly denied any wrong doing. The case was settled at a settlement conference for $800,000.00.
$325,000 - Steve’s client, a 45 year old Sr. Program Manager, was struck by a work vehicle that failed to yield the right of way while turning left in front of the victim in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Steve’s client was thrown from his Harley Davidson and suffered multiple injuries resulting in two surgeries. Suit was filed and the case settled for $325,000.00.
$200,000 - Steve’s client, an elderly lady from West Virginia, was seriously injured when the car she was traveling in was struck by a negligent driver in Garrett County, Maryland. The lady suffered a broken back and detached retina. Steve negotiated a $100,000.00 settlement with the defendant driver’s insurance company and was successful in getting his client’s West Virginia insurance company to “stack” an additional $100,000.00 for a total settlement of $200,000.00.
$100,000 - Steve represented a five year old Eastern Shore boy who was struck by a vehicle driving on the wrong side of the road while the boy was riding his bike. Steve's client suffered a traumatic brain injury and serious fractures which required him to spend an extended period of time in a rehabilitation center. The boy now has permanent brain damage. The case settled for the driver's policy limits of $100,000.00.
$95,000 - Steve represented a 36-year-old Cecil County man who was rear ended while stopped at a red light. The force of the impact was severe and his client’s vehicle was totaled. Steve’s client suffered a cerebral concussion, a C5-6 disc herniation, and a L2-3 disc protrusion. He received a 30% whole-body permanent disability rating. Steve settled the case with the insurance company for $95,000.00.