Ferry Liability Laws

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 Ferry Liability Laws

In this article, you will learn about common causes of ferry boat accidents, who can sue and who can be liable for ferry accidents, and what to do if you are seeking legal representation.

Who Regulates Ferry Services?

Ferry rides are meant to be relaxing, pristine, and refreshing. Feeling the fresh air should make you feel alive. According to the Bureau of Transportation and Statistics, ferries transport millions of passengers every year. However, ferry rides to work or for leisure can become accident scenes resulting in injury or wrongful death. Depending on how the injury occurred, a crew member or a dangerous condition that the ship operator knew or should have known about could be responsible for your injury.

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 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 sizable 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:

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).

What are Common Causes of Ferry Accidents?

There are several reasons why a ferry accident may happen. Some accidents are out of the control of the ship’s captain, but oftentimes, the accident is caused by human error. Common causes of ferry accidents include:

  • Negligence, carelessness, or recklessness by the captain
  • Improper safety equipment or procedures, such as not having enough life jackets on board
  • Overcrowding
  • Misjudgment of bad weather conditions such as typhoons, hurricanes, or dangerously high waves
  • Improper storage of cargo
  • Boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs (BUI)
  • Improper maintenance
  • Mechanical failures
  • Ship operator falling asleep while at the wheel
  • Inexperienced operators
  • Operating at too high of speeds

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 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.

One of the most important aspects of any lawsuit, whether related to a ferry boat accident or not, is standing. Standing means that a person bringing the lawsuit (known as the plaintiff) has been affected by the events of the case or will be harmed or affected if the court does not address the issue. Passengers who were harmed while on a ferry boat typically have standing to bring a lawsuit related to their injuries.

However, another class of individuals can bring a lawsuit: the crew members. If an employee or crew member is injured at sea during a ferry accident, they may be able to sue under federal legislation known as The Jones Act. The Jones Act protects any seaman who is injured or becomes ill while working aboard a vessel, such as a ferry.

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:

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 when a passenger disregards signs on a ferry saying, “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 assess your situation and better understand your rights in the legal process.

Use LegalMatch’s services to find an experienced personal injury lawyer in your area today.


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