Boating Accidents: When Can You Sue for Damages?

In car accidents, fault is often easy to assign. If a negligent driver ran a light or drove while intoxicated, the victim’s lawyers shouldn’t have a hard time proving that their client deserves financial compensation.

Boating accidents are trickier. While the owner and operator of a boat may be at fault for an accident, circumstances like unexpected waves or unpredictable weather can complicate lawsuits in ways that don’t relate to a car accident.

Whether you frequently go out on your own boat or spend time with friends on theirs, keep reading to learn when you can sue for personal injury damages — and when doing so is more complicated.

When Are You at Fault?

As with any personal injury case, boating accident cases can’t be pursued if the injured person was at fault for their own accident.

For instance, were you following proper boating procedure at the time of the accident, such as wearing a life vest? Or did you behave in a reckless way — like jumping off the side of the boat after the boat operator told you not to — that contributed to your own accident?

Even if you were hurt while on someone else’s boat, you can’t usually sue for damages if your own negligent behavior caused your injury.

When Is No One at Fault?

Boating is a recreational activity, which means you assume a certain amount of risk just by stepping on the boat. Some circumstances that make boating fun also make it dangerous — especially the presence of wakes and waves.

All boats create a wake, and it’s not always possible for other boats to avoid that wake. You can hold another driver responsible for your injuries if they created a wake in a no-wake zone or intentionally steered into a large wake without warning passengers.

In general, though, wakes are an inherent part of boating, which means it’s not always possible to hold someone else responsible for injuries caused by wakes.

Accidents caused by waves make getting compensation even more difficult since waves are a more natural occurrence than wakes. Again, if the boat operator clearly saw the wave, failed to warn passengers about it, steered the boat into the wave, or recklessly decided to take the boat out on choppy seas, you could have a case for any resulting injuries.

In many other circumstances, though, the only thing responsible for the injury is the wave itself — which means there’s nothing and no one to hold responsible.

When Is Another Person Clearly at Fault?

Not all boating accidents are complicated, however. Just like automobile drivers, boat operators must follow certain rules. If a boat operator breaks a clear rule — and if the parties involved can clearly document the evidence and offer proof of injury — a victim has a good chance of winning the financial compensation they deserve.
For instance, if a boat operator breaks the following rules, you may have a clear path to compensation:

  • Failing to store required emergency equipment — such as one life vest for every person on board — on the boat.
  • Behaving irresponsibly, like failing to maintain a safe distance from another boat.
  • Operating a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Failing to clearly signal to nearby boats that one of the boat’s passengers is in the water.

Is another person at fault for your recent injury in a boating accident? Are you unsure if you have all the facts you need to prove another person should bear the brunt of your medical expenses? A lawyer with experience in boating personal injuries can review your case and help you decide on a clear path forward. If you live in Northern Michigan, schedule a free consultation with Ringsmuth Wuori PLLC.