California ranks behind only Florida, which has a longer coastline, in boating accidents and fatalities according to the U.S. Coast Guard and its 2019 Recreational Boating Statistics Report. Across the state, California had 324 boating accidents in 2019, along with 39 fatalities.
On the waterways, all boaters must comply with certain health and safety regulations. These laws are designed to protect your life and your property from damage, but unfortunately, that doesn't mean that everyone follows them. Inebriated, distracted, unsafe, or otherwise negligent boat operators can pose a serious threat to others out on the water.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a boating accident in San Diego, contact Benner Law Firm. Our personal injury attorney Craig Benner will listen to your story, investigate the details, assess liability, and pursue the compensation you deserve — all while protecting your rights at every turn. Call or reach out today to learn more about how we can help with your case.
One of the first things to remember about boating accidents in California is that the state does not require boat owners or operators to have liability insurance. If the owner has taken a loan to purchase the vessel, however, the lender may have imposed an insurance requirement on the purchaser. In short, this means that pursuing compensation for injuries and damages caused by another boat owner often requires filing a personal injury lawsuit.
Another point to consider is that both the federal government and the state of California impose laws and regulations on boaters and vessel operators, though the federal government’s mandates mostly concern commercial vessels.
There is also the question of which court to pursue your claim in – state or federal. Article III of the U.S. Constitution says the federal court system has jurisdiction over admiralty and maritime cases, so your lawsuit may have to begin in federal court. Our firm will guide you on the best course of action, as personal injury claims against boat owners can also originate in state court, should circumstances dictate that approach.
California maritime laws prohibit the operation of a vessel that is in any way reckless or negligent and also require the boat operator to navigate at a speed appropriate to other traffic, the weather, visibility, and other hazards. The state also enforces boating under the influence (BUI) violations, just as it does with drivers who choose to drive under the influence (DUI). You can be arrested for operating a boat while your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher.
California also requires boat operators to pass a state-approved boater safety education exam and qualify for a California Boater Card. As of January 1st, 2021, every boater 40 years old or younger must take the exam and earn a card before operating a boat. The age requirement moves to 35 years of age by January 1st of 2022 and continues to rise by five years each year on January 1st. By 2025, boaters of all ages must take the exam and earn their California Boater Card so that they can be certified by the state to operate a boat.
According to U.S. Coast Guard statistics, the five most common vessels involved in boating accidents are — in order of frequency — open motorboats, personal watercraft, cabin motorboats, canoes/kayaks, and pontoons. The number-one cause of injuries and fatalities are collisions with another recreational vessel, followed by striking a fixed object. Other causes of accidents include grounding, flooding, and falling overboard. Overall, the top ten contributing factors in boating accidents are as follows:
Navigation rules violations
The force of a wave or wake
Not surprisingly, the Coast Guard also reports that most boating fatalities occur in the summer months of June and July.
Normally, we associate a boating accident with the operator of one vessel who does something that causes a collision — typically due to some form of negligence like speeding, inattention, or one of the other contributing factors listed above. The manufacturer of a vessel, however, can also be at fault if there is some kind of mechanical or structural failure that leads to the accident. Or even a repair shop that, through negligence, overlooks a needed repair or creates a mechanical condition that causes an accident. When this happens, the repair shop or mechanic could be held liable.
The operator of a dock may also be at fault if wet or slippery conditions cause someone to fall while boarding or disembarking from a boat. Or, if an electrical connection to a docked vessel causes onboard electrocution, a dock operator or manufacturer may be held liable for injuries as well.
In any type of accident or incident involving boats that causes injury — or even death — someone, or some entity like a manufacturer, must be shown to have been negligent for you to recover compensatory damages.
For instance, if you’ve been struck and injured by another boat, you must be able to show in court that:
The boat operator owed you a duty of care
The boat operator breached that duty of care
That breach of care was the cause of your injuries
Remember, under California law and regulations, boat operators are required to operate their vehicles in a safe manner — or in other words — to exercise a reasonable duty of care.
Under a personal injury claim, you can recover compensation for medical expenses, loss of income, disability, and any additional pain and suffering. Though California is considered a pure comparative negligence state — one of only four nationwide — this means that you can recover damages even if you are found to be 99 percent at fault for the accident. California state courts will simply reduce your reward by the percentage of fault that you were assigned for the accident.
For example, if you are found to be 20 percent at fault for a boating accident, and are awarded $100,000 in compensation, you will only be eligible to collect $80,000 to account for the twenty percent of fault that you were assigned for contributing to the accident.
Personal injury attorney Craig Benner has many years of experience in both personal injury law and maritime law, making him a reliable resource for boat accident counsel and representation. Here at the Benner Law Firm, our team understands the devastation that boat accidents can have on your physical, mental, and financial well-being, and we’ll fight tirelessly to bring the responsible party to justice.
Whether you are suffering from broken bones, internal organ damage, head trauma, or other significant pain, we are here to help. We will work hard, inside and outside of the courtroom, to bring peace of mind to victims like you so that you can have the support you need to get back on your feet again. We’ll fight for your rights and the compensation you deserve, and we won’t back down to any opposition. Call or reach out today to learn more about how we can help you with your case.
The Benner Law Firm has extensive knowledge and experience helping individuals and families who have been injured in boating accidents. Our firm proudly serves clients in San Diego and the areas nearby, including Chula Vista, Escondido, El Cajon, Oceanside, and throughout all of California. If you or someone you love has been injured in a boating accident, don’t face this challenge on your own. Reach out to our firm immediately to schedule a free case consultation and put our experience on your side.