Boating can be fun and relaxing way to enjoy the outdoors, and because of its proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland is a great state for boaters. However, regardless of whether you have an open motorboat, personal watercraft (jet ski), cabin cruiser, or pontoon boat, accidents can and do happen. And when they happen, they can be dangerous. The Maryland Natural Resources Police reports that in 2013, there were 127 reportable boat accidents in Maryland. Sixty-five of these accidents resulted in injury, and 14 resulted in a fatality.
The causes of boat accidents are varied and can include:
- Equipment failures;
- Operator error;
- Passenger error (for example, a water-skier);
- Excessive wake;
- Excessive speed; and
Interestingly, weather is the least likely of the above to cause a boating accident. Alcohol, speeding, operator error, and passenger error are all more likely. The most common types of boating accidents are collisions and falls. For example, a passenger or operator can fall while skiing, fall overboard, or slip and fall inside the boat. Likewise, a boat can collide with another vessel or with a stationary object.
How Can a Maryland Boat Accident Attorney Help You?
If you or a loved one have been injured in a boating accident, it is important to hire an experienced personal injury attorney. Boat accidents are often caused by negligence (for example, the negligence of the operator or another boater), but proving negligence can be tricky. Boat accidents can be a complex area of personal injury law. They often require knowledge of not just Maryland negligence law, but knowledge of boating procedures and admiralty law as well. A personal injury attorney will be able to recognize issues that are specific to boating accidents, such as:
1. Did the person who caused the accident violate a federal law such as one of the Coast Guard’s Collision Avoidance Regulations (commonly referred to as the COLREGS)?
Violation of a navigation or safety regulation can support a claim of negligence and help a plaintiff recover compensation for their damages.
2. Does maritime law apply to the boat accident?
Maritime law is a special body of federal law that is applicable to some boat accident cases. Determining whether admiralty law applies is an important issue, because admiralty law has some different rules than Maryland law. For example, admiralty law traditionally follows principles of comparative fault rather than contributory negligence. Typically, contributory negligence bars a plaintiff from recovering damages if they were at all negligent themselves. However, comparative fault allows a negligent plaintiff to recover some damages if another party was mostly at fault.
Admiralty law only applies to incidents that pose a hazard to maritime commerce. For example, in Matthews v. Howell (2000), one of four intoxicated friends that were crossing the Chesapeake Bay fell off the boat and drowned. Because the boat was adrift in the middle of a major shipping waterway, maritime law applied.
3. Was a Maryland state law, such as the Maryland Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) law, violated?
Intoxication is a major cause of boating accidents. Maryland treats boating while intoxicated similar to driving under the influence. And although a BWI is a criminal offense, evidence of intoxication can often be used to support a plaintiff’s claim negligence to recover personal injury damages.
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