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Boating Accidents and Your Legal Rights

With the return of Spring to New Hampshire, and Memorial Day just around the corner, boats will soon dot the state’s many waterways.

Boating is great fun, but with so many boats comes a greater chance of boating accidents.

To get a clearer sense of how safe New Hampshire’s lakes are for boaters, New Hampshire Public Radio reviewed the U.S. Recreational Boat Accident Database, which includes data on recreational boating accidents that resulted in death or injury requiring more than first aid, and accidents in which there was vessel loss or damage of more than $2,000. They focused specifically on the data for Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire’s biggest body of water, and determined that boating accidents were most likely to occur at the end of the weekend: one-third of reported boating accidents happened on Sundays. Also, most reported boating accidents were clustered on the lake’s shoreline, in channels between islands, and in the lake’s inlets. And finally, 67% of reported accidents happened on “calm” waters. This could be because when it’s calm, there are more boaters on the lake.

If you have been injured in a boating accident, is it important that you have an understanding of what your legal rights are and what you can do to recover damages.

An experienced Manchester boating accidents attorney can review the facts of your case, its merits and value, and advise you how to navigate the personal injury claims process. In the meantime, here is an introduction:

Types of boating accidents and negligence.

There are several types of boating accidents which could lead to injury. As to each of these, whether the boat operator is liable for another person’s injuries depends on the degree of fault by the boat operator, weather and boat traffic conditions, the boat operator’s judgment, and whether the boat operator was capable of operating the boat at the time the injury occurred.

  • Your boat hits another boat. In most boating accidents, there is usually some fault by both of the boats’ operators. Liability depends on the facts of the case. Thus, if a passenger is injured in this situation, the passenger would have a claim against both boat operators. If a boat operator is injured, that injured boat operator’s ability to recover damages depends on the percentage of fault by each boat operator. That is, if the other boat operator is more than fifty percent responsible for the other boat operator’s injuries, the injured boat operator can recover damages for their injury. In cases involving a motorboat and a sailboat, the motorboat operator is more likely to be at fault than the sailboat because the ‘Rules of the Road’ or safe boating practices require motorboats to keep out of the way of sailboats. Exceptions do apply.
  • Your boat hits another boat’s wake. When a boat hits another boat’s wake, that act can cause a passenger to be thrown around the boat or overboard. Liability for a boat hitting another boat’s wake is not always clear. Federal and state laws do require boat operators to observe safe boating practices and to be aware of any potentially hazardous boating conditions. Whether a boat operator is liable for any injuries cause by hitting a wake depend on the following factors: the size of the wake, the boat’s speed, visibility, the boat operator’s ability to handle the boat and the weather conditions, the boat traffic in the area of the accident, whether the boat operator warned the passenger that they were approaching a wake, and whether the injury was on a motorboat or a sailboat.
  • Your boat hits a wave. Whether a boat operator is liable for hitting a wave is generally the same as that when a boat hits another boat’s wake except there is usually not another boat involved in the accident. Whether a boat operator is negligent in this situation depends on the same factors as with a boat hitting another boat’s wake.
  • Your boat hits a submerged rock, object or land. Even in the best of situations and weather conditions, a boat can hit a submerged rock or object. Whether a boat operator is liable for a passenger’s injury depends on factors such as the speed of the boat, how careful the boat operator was, whether the boat operator knew the area and showed good boating judgment. For example, if a boat is travelling slowly through an area with rocks and the boat operator has nautical charts or a GPS, and hits a rock anyway, that boat operator is probably not going to be held liable for any passenger’s injuries. But if that same boat operator was zooming in and out of an area with rocks or objects without any GPS, charts or knowledge of the area, there is a far greater chance that the boat operator would be held liable for a passenger’s injuries.

Failure to have proper safety equipment on board.

If a boating accident does occur, the degree of fault or liability of a boat operator could depend, in part, on whether proper safety equipment was on board. A boat operator having items on board such as flares, life jackets, navigational lights, throwing rings to each passenger, loud whistles and fire extinguishers could make the difference between a minor injury and a more serious injury and the boat operator’s liability. If the boat operator does not have the proper safety equipment on board, that could lead to or exacerbate the boat operator’s liability.

What kind of damages do I have a right to?

If you are injured in a boating accident, your right to recover damages is similar to that of a car accident. You would have the right to recover the reasonable value of your medical bills, your lost earnings and future earnings, and pain and suffering depending on the facts and circumstances of your case.

Dealing with insurance.

Not all boat operators have insurance or the assets to pay your damages if you are injured in a boating accident. It is important that you or your attorney ascertain those facts and your chances for a monetary recovery soon after your accident if you want to file a claim against a negligent boat operator. An experienced Manchester boating accidents attorney at Manning & Zimmerman can help you determine how to proceed.

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