Who is Responsible for a Boating Accident In Georgia?

Families from across the southeast look forward to spending time on Georgia’s lakes and coastline each summer.  Fishing, sailing, water skiing, and cruising are just some of the activities enjoyed on Georgia’s waterways.  However, sometimes those activities end with an injury to one or more people through no fault of their own.  If you or a loved one were injured or killed in a boating accident caused by the careless or negligent actions of another party, you may be entitled to compensation. The article below discusses who is liable or responsible for a boating accident in Georgia.

Proving liability in the aftermath of a boating accident in Georgia

Generally, in Georgia, you cannot sue the owner of a car for injuries caused by another person using their car unless the owner has negligently entrusted the car to the person driving it.  That means you not only have to prove that the driver was negligent, but also that the owner knew or should have know of the driver’s propensity to drive without due care.

However, Georgia has a special statute when it comes to boat owners.  O.C.G.A. § 51-1-22 provides as follows:

The owner of a vessel shall be liable for any injury or damage occasioned by the negligent operation of the vessel, whether the negligence consists of a violation of the statutes of this state or of neglecting to observe such ordinary care in such operation as the rules of common law require. The owner shall not be liable, however, unless the vessel is being used with his or her express or implied consent. It shall be presumed that the vessel is being operated with the knowledge and consent of the owner if, at the time of the injury or damage, the vessel is under the control of his or her spouse, father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, or other immediate member of the owner’s family.

This statute is what is commonly called an “owner-consent” statute.  This means that, as long as the owner has consented to the operator’s use of the boat, the owner is liable or responsible for any harm caused by that operator’s negligence.  Additionally, there is a presumption of consent if the drive is an immediate family member of the owner.  So, unlike a case involving a car, a person injured in a boating accident caused by the negligence of another must only show that the owner consented that person’s use of the boat.  Owner-consent statutes make proving liability in the aftermath of a boating accident much simpler.

Can I sue the boat rental company?

Many times, the boats used on Georgia’s waterways are rented from marinas around the state.  Before a boat is rented, the renter typically signs a long, multi-page rental agreement.  Boat rental companies often include terms in these agreements that are designed to get around Georgia’s boat owner-consent statute.  For example, a boat rental company may have the following terms in their rental agreements:

  1. The boat rental company gives consent for renter to operate the boat in a safe and prudent manner. The renter agrees to observe all safety rules, operating instructions, warning decals, and legal boating statutes including but not limited to the 5 important rules – wearing lifejackets, avoiding alcohol and drugs, propeller awareness and avoidance, idle speed only within 100 feet of anything, and avoiding excessive speed, wakes, and waves.
  2. The boat rental company does not consent for renter to operate the boat in violation of safety rules, operating instructions, warning decals, and legal boating statutes including but not limited to the 5 important rules. The renter agrees that in violation of rule or instructions, his operation of the boat is without the boat rental company’s consent, and the rental will therefore be terminate.

Rental provisions like the ones above attempt to contractually revoke the consent required for liability under O.C.G.A. § 51-1-22.  However, Georgia law does not allow parties to contract around statutory liability.  Despite this, boat rental companies will still try to argue that the are not liable, which is why you should contact a skilled boating accident attorney to help with your case.

What is the deadline to file a claim after a boating accident?

Victims of boating accidents in Georgia need to be aware of various time limits in place to file claims in the state. The statute of limitations for personal injuries is two years from the date of the injury.  If a person fails to file a claim within this time frame, they will likely be unable to recover any compensation for their loss.

However, if the one of the alleged negligent parties (the boat owner or the operator) has been charged with a crime or could be charged with a crime related to the incident, and the statute of limitations may be paused until the investigation and prosecution are complete up to 6 years.

Finally, if the alleged negligent party is a government employee acting within the scope of their work duties, the deadline to file a boating accident claim could be as little as six months to a year following the incident.

Contact an attorney to help with your case

The aftermath of a Georgia boating accident can become incredibly complicated. It is highly recommended that you secure a skilled boating accident attorney for help with your case. An attorney will help you understand whether or not you an owner is subject to liability under Georgia’s boat owner-consent statute, conduct a complete investigation into the incident, and fight to secure the closure and compensation you deserve.

Matt Kahn
Matt Kahn is an Atlanta personal injury lawyer and a partner at the law firm Butler Kahn. Matt has dedicated his career to fighting for individuals and families who had been harmed by the negligence of others. At Butler Kahn, he has had the honor of helping families who have lost children in motor vehicle accidents and people who were critically injured. He helped a family secure a $45 million settlement to provide lifetime care for their son, who was critically injured in a motorcycle accident. Matt is a graduate of Emory University School of Law and has been recognized as a Super Lawyers’ Rising Star and by Best Lawyers as One to Watch. He has received an Avvo 10.0 Top Attorney rating. Connect with me on LinkedIn

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