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Detroit-Area Boating Accident Attorney

Michigan’s proximity to the Great Lakes creates many opportunities for both work and play on the water. Whatever takes you out on the water, the risk of being involved in a boating accident is always present. If you have been injured in a boating accident in Michigan, you could be entitled to compensation for the damages incurred as a result. 

You will need an attorney who understands the unique laws that govern boating accident cases. The Detroit personal injury attorneys of Sommers Schwartz can help you after a boating accident. Contact Sommer Schwartz for a free consultation regarding your situation.

Boat Accident Statistics

The United States Coast Guard keeps an annual record of recreational boating accidents. According to that data, there were 4,168 recreational boating accidents nationwide in 2019. These accidents resulted in 613 fatalities. Most fatalities were caused by drowning, and 86 percent of boat accident drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket at the time of the accident. 

Alcohol was the leading cause of recreational boat accidents. Boat operators with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeding 0.10 percent are more than ten percent more likely to be killed in an accident on the water. 

Open cabin speedboats were most frequently involved in reported boat accidents, nearly half of the time. Kayaks were second and closed-cabin motorboats came in third. 

Recreational Boating Accidents

When someone is injured or killed in an accident involving a recreational boat or other personal watercraft, the owner and/or operator of the craft might be liable for damages if it can be shown that they acted negligently. 

Just as drivers on the road have a duty to uphold safety while operating a vehicle, boaters are responsible for maintaining safe conditions while out on the water. Someone could be responsible for damages in a boating accident if it is found that they:

  • Owed the injured person a duty of care
  • Breached that duty of care by acting in a way that another reasonable boat operator would not have acted
  • Caused injuries to the person as a direct result of that breach of care

This type of boating accident would likely generate a personal injury or wrongful death complaint. An experienced Michigan boat accident attorney can help an accident victim and their family establish and prove negligence as necessary for a successful claim.

Tourist Boat Accidents

The operators of boats that carry tourists or other members of the public out onto the water are held to an even higher standard of safety than personal boat owners and operators. 

In a very well-publicized tourist boat accident in Missouri in 2018, 17 of the 31 passengers on board perished in an accident caused by bad weather. The boat captain, the company that owned it, the company’s general manager, and its operations manager were all charged with negligence related to the accident. 

Commercial Boating Accidents

Michigan’s waterways are used for the industry, too, with different commercial boating ventures operating in and around the state’s many lakes and rivers. Workers on commercial boats have the right to a safe workplace just as they would on land. However, this is sometimes dangerous work by nature, and injuries often occur so that they may have additional protections too.

Commercial boating accidents are complicated because they are governed by maritime law. A person who is hurt or killed while working on a commercial water vessel cannot collect workers’ compensation as they usually could if hurt at work on land. Instead, they may be compensated under the federal Jones Act. 

An attorney specializing in commercial boating accidents can best determine which state and federal laws a case would be affected by and to what extent. 

Causes of Boating Accidents

Some people mistakenly think that operating a boat or other watercraft requires little to no preparation or training. This attitude causes accidents. Some of the most common causes of boating accidents:

  • Operator inattention
  • Operator inexperience
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Excessive speed
  • Improper lookout
  • Overloading
  • Equipment failure
  • Weather and water conditions

In Michigan, there are no licensing requirements for boaters and few age-related restrictions on who can and cannot operate a watercraft. The Coast Guard strongly recommends anyone who enjoys water recreation to take a boater safety course. For fatal accidents in which the training status is known, more than 70 percent of operators had no formal safety training. 

Alcohol is another major contributor to accidents on the water and the top cause of fatal boating accidents. Operating a boat while intoxicated is just as dangerous as driving a car while intoxicated because it impairs judgment, coordination, and reaction time. Combine this with inexperience, and it is a recipe for disaster on the water. 

The Coast Guard has established strict guidelines for personal floatation devices (PFD), like wearable life jackets, on boats. Children under age six must always wear one while onboard. Adults do not have to wear one unless driving the vessel, but there must be a PFD that is easily accessible for each occupant on the boat. These rules vary from state-to-state.

Types of Boating Accidents

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of danger on the water. Some of the most common types of boating accident include:

  • Collision with another vessel
  • Collision with debris or another stationary object
  • Boat occupant falling or being thrown offboard
  • Swimmer being struck by a boat, prop, or another part of the boat
  • Capsizing or sinking
  • Fire or explosion onboard
  • Electrocution
  • Waterskiing (or similar activity with towable equipment) incident
  • Slip and fall onboard

The injuries caused by a boating accident can be catastrophic. Drowning is a significant threat and often fatal. Those who survive a drowning incident can suffer from extensive brain damage and life-altering injury. 

A recreational boating accident must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard if:

  • A person dies or is injured and requires medical treatment beyond first aid
  • If damage to the boat or other property exceeds $2,000
  • Or if the vessel is lost or a person disappears from the boat

Damages in Boating Accidents

Someone who has been injured in a boating accident can potentially recover compensation for injuries and damages related to:

  • Medical bills
  • Projected future medical costs
  • Lost wages
  • Lost benefits
  • Lost earning potential
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium (for spouses)

Victims may be entitled to compensation for both economic and noneconomic losses. Economic losses are those that have an exact financial value, like medical bills. Noneconomic losses are harder to quantify, like emotional distress or pain and suffering, but no less significant than economic losses. A skilled boating accident attorney would be able to determine the total value of your damages and will fight for your right to be compensated for them all. 

Call a Detroit Boat Accident Attorney Today

Boat accident cases are complicated. Due to the varied purposes for watercraft, accidents on the water are subject to several different areas of law. Rest assured that the attorneys at Sommers Schwartz are familiar with all of them. 

If you or a loved one were hurt or killed in a boating accident on Michigan’s waters, a Sommers Schwartz attorney could help you recover. Contact Sommers Schwartz for a free consultation today.

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