Boat accident lawyers have lots of work. Mostly for tourism purposes, most states have very low boat licensing requirements. In fact, in many states, lifelong landlubbers who’ve never set foot on a watercraft before can get a boating license. This inexperience, often when combined with alcohol impairment, causes most boat accidents.
Moreover, boat crash injuries are usually more serious than car crash injuries. Traffic cops usually don’t patrol lakes and rivers. Safety regulations, like speed limits and life jacket requirements, are basically optional. This means there are no nearby emergency responders either. So, when boat accidents happen, by the time help arrives, most victims are in very bad shape.
Furthermore, boat accident claims are legally complex. A third party, often an out-of-state holding company, usually owns the boat.
The bottom line is that these victims need money and this money is difficult to obtain. Settling for less simply isn’t an option in these claims. The victim is usually financially responsible for unreimbursed lost wages, unpaid medical bills, and all other such costs. Unless a boat accident lawyer does a good job, manageable physical, emotional, and financial injuries become unmanageable.
What are the Most Common Causes of Boating Accidents?
Owner or operator negligence usually causes crashes, onboard falls, “man overboard” drownings, and other common boating accidents.
Inexperienced boaters often assume that driving a boat is like driving a car. Both vehicles have steering wheels and throttles. And, since it’s so easy to get a boat license, how hard could it be?
But a boat isn’t like a car, mostly because cars have tires and brakes. Cars can veer to avoid hazards and stop almost instantly, especially at low speeds. Boats are difficult to steer and must float to a stop.
So, a little extra speed makes a big difference. Sometimes, another speeding boat’s wake causes a boat to jostle, increasing the risk of injury. More on that below.
As for impairment, for many people, boating and alcohol consumption go hand in hand. Alcohol affects motor skills and judgment ability. Since boats are so difficult to operate, as mentioned above, boaters need both these skills to safely operate a watercraft.
Aggressive and/or impaired operation also causes falls and drownings. Falls are common in rolling, pitching boats. Deck falls are even more likely. Boat decks are often slick as well as unstable. If someone falls overboard, the operator might not immediately see the fall, because boat operation requires so much concentration.
How Can an Attorney Help With Your Boat Accident Claim?
A boat accident attorney makes a difference in many areas. Solid legal advice may be the biggest area.
That advice begins with claim evaluation. Not every boating accident is negligence, or a lack of reasonable care.
The comparative fault defense, which we mentioned above, sometimes comes into play. If Boater A was speeding and Boater B was drunk when their watercraft collided, they might each be partially at fault for the wreck. In most states, partial responsibility reduces, sometimes to nothing, the amount of compensation the victim receives.
The advice ends with settlement offer evaluation. Most, but not all, insurance company settlement offers are unfair. Only a good boat accident lawyer can tell the difference between a fair and unfair offer.
What Does a Boat Accident Lawyer Do?
In addition to dispensing advice, a boat accident lawyer, along with other members of the legal team, diligently builds a solid claim for damages.
Evidence in a boat accident claim usually includes the police accident report, medical bills, and witness statements.
Frequently, the team must supplement this evidence, because it’s not strong enough to obtain maximum compensation. The police accident report is a good example. As mentioned, emergency responders don’t respond very quickly to most boat accident scenes. Furthermore, there’s not as much physical evidence, like tire skid marks, at a boat accident scene.
So, a boat accident lawyer often partners with an accident reconstructionist or other professional in these situations.
How Does a Boat Accident Claim Work?
A few boat accident claims aren’t legal claims at all. Instead, they settle before the victim files legal paperwork. However, because of the evidence and responsibility issues discussed above, such matters are few and far between.
So, mostly to jumpstart settlement negotiations, attorneys usually file legal paperwork. Before that happens, the claim must have strong evidence and its legal footing must be solid. Otherwise, the judge may throw the case out of court.
Discovery, an information exchange process, usually comes next. Discovery gives a boat accident lawyer a chance to collect additional evidence. Discovery also gives a lawyer a preview of the insurance company’s defenses.
The legal process usually doesn’t end with an emotional courtroom showdown. Instead, most personal injury claims settle out of court. These resolutions give victims more control over the outcome and, more importantly, end cases sooner.
Who Is Liable in a Boat Accident?
The answer to this question depends on the facts in the case and the legal issues in the case, as outlined above. We should also say that there’s a difference between fault and liability in a boat accident claim.
Fault is basically the halftime score. Someone, usually a biased insurance company investigator, uses the facts immediately available at the scene, and nothing else, to determine fault. Liability is like the final score. Someone, usually a judge, uses all the facts in the case, as well as any applicable legal theories, to determine liability, or legal responsibility.
So, even if an investigator said you were at fault for a boat accident, a boat accident lawyer should evaluate your case. You don’t know how much compensation you may have coming until you ask.
Finding the Best Boat Accident Attorney
When you ask, ask an experienced, dedicated, and accessible attorney. A lawyer that lacks all three qualities probably has little chance of obtaining maximum compensation in court.
Years of experience are important. But also ask the lawyer about trial experience. Your lawyer must be ready, willing, and able to go the distance for you. No one wants a boat accident lawyer who throws in the towel when things get rough.
A dedicated attorney focuses exclusively, or at least mostly, on the rights of injured accident victims. A general practice lawyer who’s a jack of all trades and a master of none may have many good qualities, but dedication isn’t one of them.
Accessible attorneys are able to meet with you on relatively short notice. However, beware of the overly-accessible lawyer. If a restaurant has an empty parking lot, that’s probably a bad sign. Likewise, if a lawyer has few clients, there’s probably a reason.
Why Do I Need a Boat Accident Lawyer?
Technically, a victim doesn’t need a boat accident lawyer. American civil courts are open to everyone. But a lawyer makes a big difference.
Let’s go back to the restaurant example. If you don’t know what to order and you go it alone, the situation might go sideways. If a waiter makes such a big difference at a restaurant, imagine what a difference a lawyer makes in a boat accident case.
When Is It Too Late To Get A Lawyer For A Boat Accident?
Normally, the statute of limitations in a personal injury case is two years from the date of the accident. Once the clock runs down, victims lose all their rights to obtain compensation.
Sometimes, the statute of limitations alarm clock has a snooze bar. Assume Jerry works at a boat dock where he fills boats with diesel fuel. Over time, the benzene fumes in the diesel fuel could cause serious health problems. But these health problems take a lot longer than two years to develop.
The discovery rule protects Jerry. The SOL clock doesn’t start ticking until victims know the full extent of their losses and connect their losses to a tortfeasor’s (negligent actor’s) wrongful conduct. Like the SOL, the discovery rule varies in different states.
How Long Does A Boat Accident Settlement Take?
The shortest baseball game in major league history lasted thirty minutes. The longest game in history lasted eight hours. Every other game’s length is somewhere in between.
Likewise, a few personal injury cases settle in a few weeks, frequently before a victim files legal paperwork, as mentioned above. The longest personal injury in history lasted, well, we’re not sure, but it was probably at least ten years. Every other accident case’s length is somewhere in between.
Most personal injury settlements require lots of time. If a claim settles too early, the settlement won’t account for all future medical expenses. In that even, the victim is left holding the bag for these costs.