Ferries are passenger boats that shuttle people back and forth from one end of a body of water to another. These are usually used for short distances, such as in a bay or in a lake rather than across the ocean or larger bodies of water. They are typically used for commuter purposes, and also for tourism and sightseeing. As such, they are often called “water taxis” or “water buses”.
In some cases, ferries can also transport vehicles and other large cargo. They can often be very sizeable water vessels, with the larger sized ferries having a capacity of over 2000 passengers and 200 vehicles. Ferries often operate on a daily basis, making them a suitable alternative for some commuters seeking alternate traffic routes.
Who Regulates Ferry Services?
Ferry services must abide by numerous federal and state laws. They may be subject to similar safety standards as other large commuter vehicles, such as large buses. Typically, injuries sustained on ferries will be covered by state personal injury laws.
Ferries that cross state lines may also have special regulations associated with them. So ultimately, what laws apply depends on the size of the ferry, what it is carrying, its point of origin, and its destination.
What Types of Injuries Commonly Happen on a Ferry?
Any number of injuries can occur on a ferry, either something happening to the passengers and their interactions or more serious like the ferry sinking. Unintentional ferry accidents can include, but is not limited to:
- Slip and fall;
- Accidents related to inadequate security; and/or
- Other boat malfunctions.
Smaller ferries may be subject to accidents and injuries that are associated with duck boats, such as the vessel sinking or capsizing (turning over upside-down).
Will the Ferry Service Be Liable for the Injuries Sustained on the Ferry?
In most states, ferry boats owe a significant duty to their passengers, and thus must exercise a great deal of care. Thus, if a passenger is wounded, a ferry owner or operator may be held responsible for the injuries that could have been avoided with greater caution or increased attention.
If a ferry service breaches the duty of safety and care that they owe to the passengers, they might face liability for negligence. An example of a breach of this duty would be if the captain of a ferry vessel was found to be operating the vessel while intoxicated. If their intoxication leads to an accident or injury, they may face liability.
In order to complete the negligence claim, the court would also need to show that the breach of duty resulted in measurable damages. The damages can be proven or measured using various items of evidence, such as hospital bills or medical charges.
Will a Ferry Service Try to Limit Its Liability?
If a passenger is injured on a ferry service, the ferry owner or operator may attempt to limit its liability by claiming:
- It adequately warned passengers of certain dangers;
- The passengers signed a waiver form releasing the company from liability; and
- Protection under the 1851 federal maritime law.
For example, after the 2003 Staten Island ferry crash, the city of New York invoked this law to try to limit its liability to the value of the ferry. To succeed, the city was required to show that it was unaware of the crewmember actions that ultimately caused the catastrophe.
In addition, some legal defenses may be available to the ferry operator or owner. For instance, if a passenger’s own negligence contributed to their injuries, they might be found liable under contributory negligence laws.
An example of this is where a passenger disregards signs on a ferry that say, “Do not enter this area: Fall risk”. If they disregard the sign and enter it anyway, their negligent actions might prevent them from collecting damages, or it may reduce their damages award.
Assumption of risk is another type of legal defense that might apply in such a situation. This is where the injured person knows of the risks of injury involved with certain conduct, yet continues with their conduct and gets injured. There may be some overlap or commonalities with contributory negligence defense situations.
What are the Legal Remedies Involved in a Ferry Accident Lawsuit?
Ferry accidents can sometimes be severe and may result in legal action. Perhaps the most common legal remedy in such cases is a monetary damages award. The damages may reimburse the injured ferry passenger for a range of economic losses. These can include: costs associated with hospital expenses; lost wages; loss of future income or loss of future earning capacity; pain and suffering; and various other losses.
Do I Need A Lawyer for Help with Ferry Liability Issues?
If you have been injured as a passenger on a ferry, the owner or operator may be responsible for your medical fees and other costs. A local personal injury lawyer can help you to assess your situation and to better understand your rights in the legal process.