With its Great Lakes and hundreds of inland waterways, Michigan is home to thousands of recreational boaters and sport fishermen. The state also supports a thriving commercial boating industry, including fishing, ferries, and tours.


But while boating is certainly fun and a livelihood for many Michigan residents, it can be a dangerous activity. The risk of injury in a boating accident is always present when you are on the open water.

The Facts About Boating Injuries

The main causes of boating accidents and injuries are:

  • Operator inattention.
  • Improper lookout.
  • Operator inexperience.

The number of people injured and killed in Michigan boating accidents has risen in recent years. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, our state had the fourth-highest number of boating fatalities in the nation in 2016.

That year, there were 125 recreational boating accidents in Michigan, resulting in more than 60 people injured and 38 deaths. This is reportedly the highest number of recreational boating fatalities in the state during a single calendar year in 20 years.

Private Boating Accidents

If you are injured in a private boating accident, the owner or operator of the watercraft that caused the harm may be responsible for damages.

The law says that boat owners and operators have a legal duty to act with a certain standard of care, or in other words, do what another reasonable boat owner or operator would do in similar circumstances.

Boating injury cases are typically brought as negligence lawsuits. In these actions, the plaintiff (the person who was harmed or his or her family) alleges that the person who caused the injury – presumably the boat’s owner or operator – did not adhere to the required standard of care.

The following factors must be proven to legally establish boating negligence:

  • The boat owner or operator owed a legal duty.
  • The boat owner or operator breached the legal duty.
  • The breach of the legal duty caused the injuries.
  • An injury was suffered because of the breach of duty.

In addition, other factors must be considered when determining whether a boat owner/operator breached the applicable standard of care. Some of these factors are:

  • Whether the boat owner or operator was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Whether the boat was being operated in a dangerous or reckless manner.
  • Whether the boat had the proper safety equipment on board, including life jackets.
  • The speed of the boat at the time of the injury.
  • Whether the boat was in good working condition.
  • Whether any laws were violated.

Commercial Boating Accidents

Like private boats, the owners and operators of commercial boats also have a duty to ensure their vessels are in good operating condition and are operated safely. When this duty is breached, and a commercial boating accident results in an injury or death, those who caused the harm may be held responsible.

Four questions usually arise in commercial boating accidents:

  • Was the boat properly manned?
  • Were the seamen on board properly trained?
  • Was the boat properly maintained?
  • Was standard protocol followed while operating the boat?

Commercial boating accidents can be complicated because they involve the federal Merchant Marine Act of 1920 – also known as the Jones Act. Because sailors, seamen, and others who earn their living on the water are not permitted to seek workers’ compensation benefits for their injuries, the Jones Act lets them file a lawsuit against their employer to recover for injuries that resulted from the employer’s negligence.

Consult an Experienced Michigan Boating Injury Lawyer

If you are injured in a collision with another boat, struck by a boat while swimming, hurt because of a slip and fall on a boat, or harmed while working on a commercial vessel, you need to seek the advice of a seasoned boating injury attorney to assess your case and determine whether you’re entitled to compensation. The experienced attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Personal Injury Litigation Group are here to help – please contact us today!

Matthew Curtis

View all posts by
Matthew Curtis

Matthew Curtis is a senior shareholder and member of the Board of Directors at Sommers Schwartz, P.C. For the past 30 years, he has successfully litigated complex personal injury and medical malpractice cases throughout Michigan, and across the United States.