According to an Associated Press article, in 2009, there were 4730 recreational boating accidents reported in the United States, with one fatality per 5.8 registered vessels. The same year, there was one fatality per 7.6 US vehicles-automobiles and motorcycles. Simply put, recreational boats are more dangerous than automobiles.
In addition to poor boater education, and overall younger operators, alcohol use is a leading factor in boating accidents. Sun, wave action, and fatigue combine to magnify the effects of alcohol. As a hot-weather, party-atmosphere form of recreation, many boaters seem to have the mistaken idea that drinking and boating are a good match.
As boat occupants are largely unprotected from impact and skiers are totally unprotected, injuries from boating accidents are often severe. Jurors are likely to assume, more so than the typical vehicle collision, that the “accident” was a result of alcohol intoxication and/or reckless horseplay. Therefore, anyone injured in a boating accident should be represented by an attorney who handles serious injury claims, and who is well versed in investigating facts that may lead to a punitive damages award (punishment damages).
Personal injury boating attorneys need to be well versed in the specific Georgia statutes and regulations related to boating, including statutes and regulations that apply to specific lakes in Georgia.
Mr. Boston represents the victims of boating accidents and their families throughout north and middle Georgia. Mr. Boston will meet you at your home or other convenient place. You can meet Mr. Boston at his office in Athens, or any one of several law offices in the metropolitan Atlanta area that are available for Mr. Boston’s use. In the event of severe accidents, including wrongful death claims, Mr. Boston will meet you anywhere in the state of Georgia.
In most situations, Mr. Boston’s attorney’s fee will be one third of any recovery, in addition to claim and litigation expenses. There will be no attorney’s fee unless you collect. In most situations, all claim and litigation expenses will be recovered from any recovery, with no up-front fees. Only in cases of highly disputed liability (as to who was at fault), will the attorney’s fee be 40% of any recovery.
If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of another’s negligence while on Lake Allatoona, Lake Hartwell, Lake Lanier, Lake Oconee, Carters Lake, Lake Sinclair, Lake Burton, Lake Rayburn, Lake Blue Ridge, Lake Burton, or at other Georgia lakes, please contact Mr. Boston for a free thorough consultation.
If you have not done so, please review other portions of this web site to learn more about Mr. Boston’s background, philosophy, and for general information about personal injury claims.
- What Constitutes Boating Negligence & How is it Proved?
- What Damages are Available to a Boating Accident Victim?
- Who is Liable for a Boating Operator’s Negligence?
As discussed below, unlike the typical vehicle collision claim, the owner of a boat, even if not the negligent operator of the boat, is most likely responsible for the damages to an injured person.
Georgia law, including the Georgia Boat Safety Act, regulates the responsibilities of boaters and boat owners much like Georgia law regulates highway vehicles. Georgia statutes and regulations address speeding, boating under the influence, reckless operation of boats, the age of the operator, lighting required, safe speeds in specific areas, and other rules of the road for boat traffic.
There are many Georgia statutes and regulations addressing issues directly related to boats and jet skis, and some are specific to particular lakes in Georgia, particularly as to the size of a boat allowed.
Statutes and regulations address whether a particular boat can be operated before sunrise or after sunset, the speed allowed within a certain distance of moored vehicles, docks, etc., and specific areas in which boats cannot be operated-such as near navigation devices, in hazardous areas, and in blind spots. Statutes and regulations address the pulling of skiers and water boards.
Georgia statutes and regulations address a boat operator’s duty to render assistance after an accident, and the operator or owner’s duty to file an Accident Report.
It is essential that a boating personal injury attorney be thoroughly versed in Georgia statutes and regulations involving watercraft, particularly as related to a specific lake in Georgia.
Because there are no skid marks in a boating accident, as serious injury may result even though there is little property damage to a boat, and as there is no clearly defined resting place of a boat after a collision, determining what happened and who is negligent is more difficult. Considerably more interviewing of witnesses and investigation will likely be required following a boating accident than a vehicle accident.
For a review of damages available in a wrongful death situation, which apply to both vehicle and boat injuries, please see this website under the Wrongful Death tab.
The damages potentially available from a boating injury are the same as in a vehicle collision (car or truck collision). Past, present, and future medical expenses, past, present and future lost income, and physical and mental pain and suffering damages are compensable. (As addressed below, punitive damages are actually more likely in a boating situation).
In the typical car or truck collision claim, the insurance company will regularly argue that the physical injury is not that serious because there was little or modest property damage to the vehicle. Insurers regularly argue that any alleged medical problem obviously pre-existed the collision, since the impact was so slight or modest it couldn’t have caused the injury, just a minor aggravation. These arguments are less persuasive in a boating accident since the victim had little or no physical protection.
When there are aggravating circumstances such as intoxication, punitive damages (to punish or deter future bad conduct) can be awarded. An award is even more likely when the intoxicated operator was driving without lights and/or in poor lighting conditions.
Jurors are likely to assume, more so than the typical vehicle collision, that the “accident” was a result of alcohol intoxication and/or reckless horseplay. Many folks, fairly or not, see boating and drinking as synonymous. Therefore, if there is any reasonable evidence that alcohol caused an incident, a punitive damages claim may be successful.
It may seem surprising, but in many automobile accidents in which the guilty party was found to be intoxicated, a jury will not award significant punitive damages, if any. Drunk drivers at trial often express deep remorse for their actions, contend that their intoxication was due to severe depression/illness, and claim they have already received severe punishment, voluntarily obtained alcohol treatment, and that they no longer drink. Juries will actually often feel sorry for them, but generally do award significantly more in pain and suffering damages than they would otherwise, and are much less likely to believe they were not negligent.
The typical excuses of drunken boat operators are less likely to be accepted by a jury. The jury is more likely to conclude that, unlike the allegedly depressed, lonely person leaving a bar, the drunken boat operator was simply having fun, and had no consideration for the safety of others. Certainly a showing of remorse, punishment, and alcohol treatment may sway a jury, but there’s more risk for the defendant. An experienced personal injury attorney is needed to rebut the often phony excuses and defenses of the drunk boat operator.
Of course, the negligent operator of a boat is liable for an injured party’s damages. Any liability insurance coverage insuring the boat will likely cover anyone operating the boat with the owner’s consent, to the extent of liability coverage. However, if no liability coverage is available, it will likely be very difficult to collect against the non-owner operator. As a general rule, one should assume that the boat owner will have greater overall financial assets than the non-owner operator.
Contrary to what many believe, owners of vehicles (“vehicles” defined as cars and trucks) are not normally liable for someone else’s negligence while driving the owner’s vehicle. Exceptions exist, such as when there is an employer/employee relationship between the owner and operator.
Georgia law, however, places a much higher standard on a boat owner versus a car or truck owner. O.C.G.A. § 51-1-22 (“the boat statute”) provides, in relevant part:
Owner’s liability for negligent operation of vessel; express or implied consent prerequisite
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.
In summary, a boat owner is liable for anyone negligently operating the boat-any 3rd party’s or any immediate family member’s negligence-if the owner allows (consents to) the individual operating the boat. The owner is liable regardless of the owner’s lack of knowledge of the individual’s prior boating misconduct or intoxication. Consent can be implied, in addition to what’s stated in the statute-i.e. the owner has given a key to the operator, has never objected previously after knowing the individual operated the boat.
Any vehicle or boat owner is liable for a boat operator’s negligence if they are found to have “negligently entrusted” their vehicle or boat to someone who they knew was a reckless or incompetent driver or who was intoxicated when the vehicle/boat was given to them. (In Georgia, the owner has no duty to investigate the driving abilities of the 3rd party, but merely is liable if they knew in advance that the 3rd party was a bad driver or was intoxicated).
The boat statute discussed above will generally make the “negligent entrustment” theory of recovery irrelevant-under the statute if the owner consented to the operator driving the boat, it doesn’t have to be proved that the owner knew the operator was reckless, intoxicated, etc. However, the negligent entrustment ground of recovery can be relevant on the issue of punitive damages (damages purely to punish bad conduct or to deter future bad conduct).
If the boat owner, for example, knew that the operator of a boat was intoxicated, but he allowed the boat to be operated anyway, the owner, along with the operator, can be held liable for punitive damages.
DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.
There are three basic separate areas of damages potentially recoverable as a result of a death caused by the negligence of another. (Damages, under Georgia law, depending on the circumstances, may be awarded to the Estate of the deceased and/or to a surviving family member(s)).
Funeral and burial related expenses are recoverable. Moreover, medical expenses for any treatment given to the deceased are recoverable.
If the deceased was not instantly killed and was conscious for some period of time, damages can be sought for the deceased’s physical and mental pain and suffering. There must be some evidence that the deceased was at least conscious enough to feel pain or anguish. The most horrifying example of pain and suffering would be in a situation where the deceased died in a burning vehicle.
Pain and suffering damages certainly can be sought even if the deceased died from his injuries many months later. It is simply necessary to prove that the death was related to the injury.
Even if the deceased was instantly killed, mental pain and suffering damages can be sought if there is some evidence that the deceased realized that the collision or other incident was about to occur. For example, if the deceased was struck by a driver running a red light, evidence from an eyewitness, that the deceased was looking in the direction of the other driver before impact, may be sufficient.
The main claim in most death actions is for “the full value of the life of the deceased.” A major component of “the value of life,” under the law, is the future earnings capacity of the deceased. Social Security benefits and pension benefits are applicable also.
At trial, expert witness testimony (generally an economist) must testify as to the expected future income or earnings of the deceased. The opinion is often largely based on general statistics for a person of a similar educational and occupational background as the deceased.
Certainly, the deceased’s prior income levels, lifestyle, general health, and other factors can be assessed in an opinion. There must be evidence presented of the deceased’s remaining life expectancy just prior to the accident, as well as the estimated length of future earnings.
All future income must be reduced to present value. Because of the above income factors, a younger person’s “economic value” may be much higher than a retired person’s.
Georgia law also allows recovery for the “intangible elements” of the value of a life. This is a very general criteria, which allows a jury to assess many factors about the value of a deceased’s life had they lived-how much future enjoyment they would have received in life, etc.
Punitive damages (damages to either deter or punish the negligent party) may also be awarded in a wrongful death action. The same factual issues – intoxication, intentional acts, and other very bad conduct – that justify punitive damages in other personal injury cases – are applicable to wrongful death cases.
Many factors are related to the value of a death claim, as in all personal injury claims. While unfortunate, I have found that jurors will often consider who would be receiving any money they might award. For example, a distant relative pursuing a claim will rarely obtain the same judgment as a spouse, or, particularly, a young spouse with children.
As in all claims, a large truck company or a corporate defendant normally will increase the value of a claim. When there is not a corporate/business entity to sue, jurors are often fearful that a very large award would financially devastate the defendant. (Generally, jurors cannot be told whether insurance coverage applies, or in what amount).
Wrongful death actions should only be handled by an experienced personal injury attorney, and are much more complex than the simple vehicle accident. I have pursued and defended numerous wrongful death actions during my career. I am highly sensitive to a family’s emotions and goals during the process of a wrongful death action.
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490 N. Milledge Ave.,
Athens, Georgia 30601