Victim of Maryland Boating Accident May Face Legal Challenges and Affirmative Defenses
The sole survivor of a boating accident that killed three others during a 2016 fishing tournament is now suing the organizer of the event, according to a May 18, 2018 article in Baltimore’s The Capital Gazette. The lawsuit, filed in federal court due to its maritime subject matter, seeks $10 million in damages for injuries the victim suffered due to multiple failures by tournament organizers. Among other allegations, the plaintiff claims that the defendant failed to protect boaters by canceling the event due to inclement weather. The victim and his three friends were thrown into the freezing waters of the Potomac River when their boat capsized in huge waves.
According to the complaint, the claimant sustained physical injuries and psychological trauma from the tournament organizer’s breach. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, has undergone back surgery, and suffers from other injuries. His claim also alleges lost wages, loss of society, and loss of consortium. On its surface, the lawsuit appears to favor the plaintiff.
However, the defendant’s lawyer filed a response in court stating multiple affirmative defenses stemming from the circumstances, some of which may be difficult to overcome by the plaintiff. The case is an example of how the responsible party in a lawsuit based upon negligence will resort to any and all tactics to defend its own interests. It is critical to retain an experienced Baltimore County, MD personal injury attorney to aggressively pursue your rights, even in the face of potential defenses.
Assumption of Risk
It is likely that the defendant in the Maryland boating accident will claim that the victim assumed the risk of being injured when he voluntarily and willfully decided to participate in the fishing tournament. He had to realize the dangers involved with being on a boat generally; he is also presumed to know that wind, rain, and other foul weather conditions could kick up at any time, especially in November when the accident occurred.
The assumption of risk defense is often raised against claims involving sports and physical activities where the core concept of competition increases the threat of injuries. Still, a party alleging that the plaintiff assumed the risk must demonstrate that the harm was inherent in the activity. The defendant could prevail by arguing that falling overboard due to a capsized boat is a danger that is inherent in a fishing competition.
Contributory Versus Comparative Negligence
Maryland still adheres to a harsh rule in negligence-based cases, which holds that a claimant cannot recover any compensation if the injuries resulted in any small way from his or her own conduct. Even a slight fraction of fault on behalf of the plaintiff eliminates any chance of recovery if the defendant proves contributory negligence as an affirmative defense.
However, recall that the boating accident case occurred on navigable waters of a US state, so federal maritime laws apply. Fortunately for the boating accident victim, maritime law allows for comparative fault, so his own negligence is not a complete bar to recovery. Still, his damages may be reduced by the percentage of fault attributable to him, if any.
Fault in “Act of God” Incidents
In contracts for insurance coverage, the policy will often state that the insurer does not cover damages due to “Acts of God.” Generally, this term refers to losses caused by:
- Events that cannot be avoided even through the highest level of caution;
- Incidents that occur despite all possible preventative measures; and,
- Natural causes and natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, hail, flooding, earthquakes, and other events.
Since the defendant in the boating accident case carries insurance coverage, it is likely that the company will present an affirmative defense alleging that the incident occurred due to an Act of God. The issue may come down to whether a human could be considered blameworthy, even indirectly.
Other Potential Defenses
In addition, there are other affirmative defenses a plaintiff may face in a personal injury claim, including:
Statute of Limitations: Under federal maritime law, the time limit for filing a personal injury suit is three years. The clock starts running as of the date that the injury-causing accident occurred. If a plaintiff does not sue in court before the statute of limitations expires, he or she is prohibited from ever recovering compensation. The statute of limitations is not an issue for the claimant in the Maryland boating accident case because the incident happened in November 2016 and the lawsuit was filed in 2018.
However, it is important to be mindful of the statute of limitations in any case: This rule can act as a complete bar to recovery of you do not file a lawsuit within this time frame. Note that filing a claim with an insurance company does not qualify as filing a lawsuit in court.
Failure to Mitigate Damages: Though not officially a defense, this concept may reduce the amount a plaintiff can recover when his or her actions make the injuries worse. Most often, the failure to mitigate damages is raised by a defendant when the claimant delayed in seeking medical treatment for injuries. A victim must take reasonable measures to mitigate, i.e., minimize, the impact of the injuries by going to the emergency room, visiting an urgent care center, or otherwise getting medical attention.
Another example is when the victim does not follow a healthcare provider’s orders for recovering from his or her injuries. Through their own actions, claimants may exacerbate their medical conditions, making the pain and suffering worse, increasing the costs of treatment, missing out on more work, and otherwise impacting their quality of life.
The recent Maryland boating accident serves as an example of how affirmative defenses work in a personal injury case. You may be able to prove the essential elements of a negligence case, including duty, breach, causation, and damages; however, defendants also get the chance to present evidence and arguments to protect their own interests. A good defense strategy may significantly reduce your compensation or prevent you from recovering at all.
For more information on maritime accidents, (boating accidents) other personal injury cases, please contact our office. We can schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation to review your claim.