Fishing, swimming, and cruising are beloved activities for many Georgians, especially during the Peach State’s hot summer months. Unfortunately, boat operators aren’t always as careful as they should be, which results in accidents that can leave victims with painful injuries, expensive medical bills, and time missed at work. If someone else’s careless behavior hurts you, you shouldn’t be left to pay for the consequences – and the boating accident lawyers at Butler Kahn can fight so that you don’t have to.
Our Georgia boating accident lawyers have the experience and know-how to help you demand fair and full compensation for all that you’ve suffered. We’ve recovered millions of dollars on behalf of our clients and are widely recognized by our peers for providing top-notch legal representation. If you want to know more about how we can help you after a boat accident in Georgia, contact us for a free initial consultation.
What Is a Boating Accident?
A boating accident is any type of accident that occurs on a river, lake, ocean, or another body of water and involves a watercraft or vessel. Boating accidents include accidents involving jet skis and other personal watercraft, open motorboats, canoes, kayaks, sailboats, and any other type of water vessel.
For example, someone who’s injured after falling off a boat along the Georgia coastline has been hurt in a boating accident. The same is true of someone whose rented canoe tips over while navigating the Chattahoochee. As long as a watercraft is involved, the incident is considered a boating accident. However, your right to receive compensation is tied to showing that another party’s negligence caused the accident.
What Are Some Common Types of Boat Accidents?
Some of the common types of boat accidents we see in Georgia include:
- Impaired operator accidents – Operating any type of watercraft while impaired by alcohol or drugs is a serious safety hazard for everyone onboard the vessel or in its vicinity. An impaired operator is more likely to speed, will have a harder time judging the distance between their vessel and other objects around them, and will have a more difficult time recognizing hazards.
- Falls – On larger vessels, passengers might slip and fall on wet decks. On smaller watercraft, an operator or passenger might fall into the water if they strike an object, hit another craft, or lose control of their own craft.
- Striking another vessel, an underwater hazard, or a stationary object – Maintaining proper speed and control of a boat is crucial. Vessels that pass too close to other vehicles around them or go too fast can cause collisions. Similarly, an impaired, distracted, speeding or otherwise negligent operator might crash the vessel into a rock or other underwater hazard. Negligent boat operators have also been known to crash boats into piers, buoys, or other stationary objects.
- Distracted operators – A boat operator who’s distracted from the task at hand cannot respond to changing conditions in time to avoid an accident. Getting caught in a sudden storm, not looking out for potential hazards, and getting too close to other vessels can all cause an accident in the wrong circumstances.
- Poor maintenance – Boats need to be properly maintained to be operated safely. A vessel that isn’t properly maintained can develop rust or other issues with the hull, which can cause it to sink. Engine failure and other mechanical problems can leave the boat stranded far from shore. And standing water can lead to mildew or rot, which can cause occupants to slip.
- Lack of proper emergency equipment – Even a relatively minor problem can become a disaster if a boat doesn’t have the appropriate safety equipment. Without a radio, flare, or some other way to signal for help, people on a stranded boat can find themselves in dire straits. Passengers cannot safely evacuate a boat without flotation devices. A lack of life jackets can cause drownings that could have been prevented.
What to Do In a Boating Accident?
Here’s what to do if you are involved in a boating accident:
- Get help – Use your phone, emergency radio, or signal flare to let the authorities know you’re in trouble.
- Report the accident – Once you’re safe, file an accident report and let your insurance company know there’s been an accident. However, refrain from giving any detailed statements until you have spoken to an attorney.
- Document the accident – Take photos of any vessels involved in the accident, the damage to the vessels, and your injuries. Get the contact information for any witnesses, and write down what happened as soon as you have the opportunity to do so.
- Get medical attention – See a doctor right away and retain your medical records. Waiting too long to seek medical attention could make it harder to recover compensation for your injuries.
- Talk to a lawyer – Personal injury claims related to boating accidents can be difficult to prove, so talking to an attorney right away can give you a jump start on your case.
What Damages Are Available to Boating Accident Victims in Georgia?
Your injuries and financial losses from a boating accident may be substantial. You may be entitled to recover compensation for them through a personal injury lawsuit. You could recover compensation for:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Reduced earning potential due to a disability
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Damaged personal property
How Long Do I Have to File a Boat Accident Lawsuit?
Generally, Georgia law gives you two years from the date of a boating accident to file a lawsuit. This is called the statute of limitations. If you miss this deadline, you will likely be unable to recover any compensation because your case can be dismissed as untimely.
Contact Our Boat Accident Lawyers in Georgia Today
The sooner you speak to an attorney after a boating accident, the more likely it is you’ll be able to claim compensation for your injuries. Contact Butler Kahn today for a free consultation with a Georgia boat accident lawyer.
Families from across the southeast look forward to spending time on Georgia’s lakes, including Lake Lanier and Lake Altoona, and Georgia’s coastal areas, like Savannah, St. Simons, and Tybee Island, 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. Call the experienced boating accident attorneys at Butler Kahn.
How Do Injuries Occur In a Boating Accident In Georgia?
Injuries in boating accidents can occur in multiple ways. The most common scenario is a boating collision—meaning the boat collides or runs into another boat or some other object. Most boats do not have safety belts like cars, so people are often ejected or thrown out of the boat during a boating collision. Unfortunately, many people in boating collisions drown as a result of being thrown into the water while in a disoriented or unconscious state. Boating collisions are often caused because someone has acted negligently or recklessly by going too fast, not paying attention, or any combination of factors.
Another common accident involving boats is propeller accidents. Propeller accidents can occur while someone is tubing, water skiing, wakeboarding, or doing another activity in the water. Participants can be run over by their own boat, or another boat while doing these activities or while waiting to be picked up after tubing, water skiing, or wakeboarding. Propeller accidents are often catastrophic. In fact, propeller injuries have an overall fatality rate of 15% to 17%, with a similar rate of major amputations.
What Kind of Boats Are Involved in Boating Accidents?
Many different types of boats can be involved in boating accidents in Georgia. Pontoon boats—or party boats—are often involved in boating accidents, oftentimes as a result of a violation of Georgia’s boating while intoxicated law, O.C.G.A. § 52-7-12. Speed boats, or boats that pull tubers, water skiers, or wakeboarders, are often involved in accidents for the reasons discussed above. Finally, jet skies are readily available at Georgia’s lake and coastal areas to any person over 16. O.C.G.A. § 52-7-8.3. Because there is no training required before renting a jet ski, there are often many accidents due to inexperience.
Does Georgia or United States Law Apply To My Boating Accident?
There are two different bodies of law that can apply to personal injury cases – state law, and federal law. In most personal injury cases, state law (i.e., the laws of the state of Georgia) will apply. But in some boating accident cases, federal law (i.e., the laws of the United States) applies instead.
So which body of law applies to your boating accident case? It depends on where the accident occurred. For example, if the accident occurred on Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, or Lake Oconee, Georgia law will probably apply. But if the boating accident occurred on the open ocean or on certain parts of the Savannah River, federal maritime law will likely apply instead. The deciding factor is whether that body of water is “navigable” in a legal sense. In this specific legal context, the word “navigable” has a special meaning. It doesn’t just mean whether the river or lake can be navigated by a boat. Under boating laws, a river or lake is “navigable” if it “is capable of being used in commerce .” Aqua Log, Inc. v. Lost and Abandoned Pre-Cut Logs and Rafts of Logs, 709 F.3d 1055, 1062 (11th Cir. 2013).
As boating accidents occurred and litigation followed, courts have sometimes issued rulings about whether certain bodies of water are “navigable.” Those cases have established a precedent that other courts are likely to follow. For example, Lake Allatoona is not navigable. Moore v. Traina Enterprises, Inc., 15 F.Supp.3d 1354, 1359 (N.D. Ga. 2013). Lake Lanier is not navigable. In Re Stephens, 341 F.Supp. 1404, 1407 (N.D. Ga. 1965). That means that Georgia law will apply to boating accidents that occur on Lakes Allatoona or Lanier. But courts have held that parts of the Flint River and the Savannah River are navigable. Aqua Log, Inc., 709 F.3d. at 1062; The Katie, 40 F. 480, 491-92. That means that federal maritime law may apply to boating accidents that occur on the Flint River or the Savannah River.
As to most rivers and lakes in Georgia, courts have not yet had to issue rulings about whether the lakes are navigable. But based on the law and available precedent, here is what we think courts would say about the navigability of specific bodies of water.
Non-Navigable (Georgia law applies): Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, Lake Oconee, most of Lake Hartwell, Lake Chatuge, West Point Lake, Lake Harding, Lake Oliver, Lake Blackshear, Lake Burton, Lake Rabun, Lake Seminole, Lake Sinclair, Seed Lake, Walter F. George Lake, most of the Chattahoochee River, most of St. Mary’s River, most of the Flint River, Oconee River, Etowah River, Altamaha River, Ocmulgee River, Ogeechee River, Satilla River, Suwanee River, Chestatee River, Coosa River, Okefenokee Swamp
Navigable (federal maritime law applies): open ocean, Intracoastal waterway, Savannah River, parts of the Chattahoochee River, parts of St. Mary’s River, areas around commercial ports, parts of the Flint River
Who is Responsible for a Boating Accident?
The obvious answer to this question is the driver or operator of the at-fault boat. If the operator was negligent by failing to pay attention, speeding, failing to slow in a no-wake zone, or reckless by drinking, using drugs, or other under the influence of any other substance, the operator can be held liable for injuries caused by the accident.
The owner of the boat might also be responsible for an accident. Georgia law provides the following:
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 members of the owner’s family.
O.C.G.A. § 51-1-22. 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 driver 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 to that person’s use of the boat. Owner-consent statutes make proving liability in the aftermath of a boating accident much simpler.
Additionally, a boat rental company is sometimes also liable for injuries sustained in accidents.
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:
- The boat rental company gives consent for a 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, wake, and waves.
- The boat rental company does not consent for a 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 rules or instructions, his operation of the boat is without the boat rental company’s consent, and the rental will therefore be terminated.
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 they 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. However, the statute of limitation for a loss of consortium claim—which is a spouse’s claim for the loss of love, companionship, affection, and all other values arising out of a marriage—is four years from the date of the spouse’s 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 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, the statute of limitations may be paused until the investigation and prosecution are complete for up to 6 years. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99. This statute is often applicable in boating under the influence or BUI cases.
If the allegedly 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 Our Georiga Boating Accident Attorney To Help With Your Boating Case.
The aftermath of a Georgia boating accident can become incredibly complicated. If you were on a navigable waterway, like the Savannah River, your case might be governed by United States maritime law rather than Georgia state law. If you were on a river or lake that courts have decided is “non-navigable,” like Lake Lanier or Lake Allatoona, the state law of Georgia will likely apply to your case. That is why it is highly recommended that you secure a skilled boating accident attorney to help with your case. A personal injury attorney will help you understand whether or not you an owner subject to liability under Georgia’s boat owner-consent statute, conduct a complete investigation into the incident, and fight to secure closure and compensation for you or your family. Georgia boating accident lawyer.