Accidents can occur on any type of boat, and are commonly associated with boat rentals. Any type of boating activity is associated with some degree of risk, with some types more dangerous than others. 

Some of the most common types of boat rentals include:

  • Small boats, such as rowboats, pedal boats, and outrigger motorboats;
  • White-water rafts and canoes;
  • Fishing vessels and inflatable boats;
  • Sail boats;
  • Duck boats for private tours;
  • Standup paddle boards; and
  • Jet skis.

A boat accident lawsuit would be a lawsuit in which an injured person sues the boat’s owner or operator. They would file a lawsuit in hopes of being awarded damages, which refers to monetary damages intended to reimburse the injured party for expenses associated with the injuries sustained. Such lawsuits are generally based on the legal theories of personal injury and negligence. 

What Are Common Boat Accidents?

The most common type of boating accident is a collision with another boat, or some other sea vessel. Other types of boating accidents include:

  • Collisions with a dock or wharf;
  • Collisions with rocks or cliffs;
  • Drunken boating accident;
  • Negligent operation of a boat;
  • Product malfunction; and
  • Gas or fluid leak.

However, the term boating accident can also refer to a person having an accident while on a boat. The most common example of this would be a person experiencing a slip and fall accident while on a boat. 

What Do Boating Laws Cover?

Boating laws can vary drastically from state to state. As of 2020, thirty-six states have mandated some form of education required to operate a boat on state waters. Some states require that boat owners and/or operators be specially licensed to operate a boat.

The United States Coast Guard (“USCG”) is an excellent resource for understanding what boating laws exist at the state and federal levels, as well as what the USCG themselves require. As there are federal safety regulations in addition to state and local laws, it is important to be well informed before buying, renting, or operating a boat. Doing so can limit your liability should any accidents occur.

What Parties Can Be Held Liable for a Boat Accident? 

The majority of boating accidents are the result of a collision with another boat; as such, liability in this situation is generally very similar to that of a car accident. A court will determine liability based on the facts surrounding the collision, and if there was any duty owed to the injured party by the liable party. Liable parties often include, but may not be limited to:

  • The boat’s owner and/or operator;
  • The manufacturer responsible for any defective parts, or anyone else considered liable by products liability; or
  • The party responsible for renting out the boat.

Generally speaking, the rental company will be held liable for injuries sustained from boat rentals. If the rental company has hired an independent instructor or guide, that person could be individually liable under vicarious liability rules. Almost all boat rental organizations require their patrons to sign a waiver, or a release clause

This form releases the rental company from any liability for injuries sustained while operating a rented boat. The patron agrees that they are accepting responsibility for injuries, and are assuming any reasonable risks involved with the boating trip. If you have signed such a release clause, it may be difficult for you to recover for damages, since you are effectively assuming responsibility for your actions.

Boat rental companies are considered common carriers. They offer services to the public in exchange for payment. As a common carrier, the boat company has a duty to:

  • Provide boats that are reasonably safe, and also fit for the intended purpose;
  • Exercise all precautions for passenger safety;
  • Comply with safety rules;
  • Provide drivers who have reasonable driving skills;
  • Warn passengers of any potential dangers; and
  • Meet various other requirements as determined by state or local laws.

What Injuries Can Boat Accidents Cause? 

Some examples of the most common injuries sustained in a boat accident include:

  • Spine and neck injuries, such as whiplash;
  • Muscle, tissue, or joint injuries;
  • Broken bones;
  • Lacerations, which could then become infected;
  • Loss of limb(s);
  • Head traumas; and
  • Incidences of drowning.

The severity of injuries can depend on several other factors. This could include the speed of the boat, the weight of the boat, and the number of passengers loaded onto the boat during the time of the accident.  

Boat injuries can involve various causes and factors. Each case will be different, but there may be common causes in many cases. The cause of the boat accident can also affect the types of injuries involved (for instance, if the accident was caused by speeding or operating the vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.) 

What Types of Legal Remedies Are Available in a Boat Accident Claim?

As previously mentioned, most boating accident claims are treated as personal injury or negligence claims. In such lawsuits, the legal remedy will generally consist of a monetary damages award. This award is intended to compensate the injured party for their losses and may cover expenses such as:

  • Medical and hospital bills;
  • Surgery costs;
  • Therapy costs; and
  • Other losses such as missed work wages.

In cases involving issues regarding faulty products, the product will likely be subject to a recall by the manufacturer. Class action lawsuits may follow if many people were injured by the defect issue.

Are There any Special Boating Laws in the Fairfax Area? 

D.C. maintains harbor and boating safety regulations, as well as adhering to all federal boating laws. D.C. requires that all motorized boat operators are to pass a boater safety course, and carry a boater education card. Failure to adhere to these requirements can lead to various legal consequences or punishments. 

No person under that age of eighteen may legally operate a boat or vessel greater than 16 feet in length; however, this restriction is waived if the underage operator shows their D.C. Boater Education Certificate, and is supervised by a person at least eighteen years of age. This supervising party must also show that they have successfully completed an approved boater safety course.

You should consult with a Fairfax attorney in order to determine whether there are any special boating laws in the Fairfax area. Different lakes and water sources will likely have their own rules and regulations which are to be followed. 

Also, boating laws and local regulations may be subject to frequent change and adjustment. If you have any questions about the specific boating laws in your area, you may need to contact a boating lawyer for advice or guidance. An attorney can explain what your rights are under current laws and statutes.  

Do I Need a Lawyer if I’ve Been in a Boat Accident in the Fairfax Area?

If you’ve been in a boating accident, and are in the Fairfax area, you should immediately consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury attorney

An experienced personal injury attorney can help determine who you may file a lawsuit against, as well as collect evidence proving your claim. Additionally, an attorney will be knowledgeable of local boating laws, and can represent you in court as needed.