Boating Accidents

Here in Northern Georgia, we are fortunate to enjoy many miles of scenic coastline, whitewater rafting on the Oconee as well as beautiful lakes like Allatoona and Lanier. Because of this close proximity to the life aquatic, many Georgians enjoy boating when time and weather permit. And while the vast majority of boaters are safe and responsible, unfortunately there is a subset of people who choose to drink while driving their boats.

As a member of the Lake Lanier Sailing Academy, Mr. Simon has seen first hand many cases of drinking and boating, especially during summer months. Because boating can be such a liberating experience and water seems so forgiving, it is easy to forget that the boat is a hugely powerful machine capable of causing severe damage. While there should be no problem for people who are experienced and alert, nightfall and alcohol can easily turn a pleasant day of boating into something more dangerous.

What happens legally if someone is injured or killed in a boating accident near Clarke County Georgia?

First, you should understand that boating is no different from driving in the sense that exercising ordinary care is requirement for both. Beyond that, boaters are required to follow the rules of navigation as well as the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Regulations.

Department of Natural Resources Rules

Boaters are expressly prohibited from disregarding the safety of persons or property. Anything that would put people or their property in danger is outlawed, including the following:

1.     Trying to jump the wake of another boat less than 100 feet away (“buzzing” other boats)

2.     Failing to keep adequate distance when operating a boat or pulling a skier

3.     Letting a passenger sit on the gunwhale or bow without a safety rail

4.     Traveling too fast

5.     Exiting too fast from an enclosure where you might collide with other boats traveling at high speed

6.     Driving a boat with an alcohol level of 1.0 or higher

If you are found guilty of any of these actions, you will be charged with a misdemeanor, be fined $1,000, and lose boating privileges. Keep in mind that the penalties for boating under the influence (BUI) are more severe if there is a child under 14 onboard.

While within the boating community there are long-standing traditions about how to interact with other boats, most people are unaware of them and simply drive boats like cars, on the right side of the water.

What to do when crossing?

When two boats are at an “intersection”, the boat on the right (known as “starboard”) claims the right of way. The other boat, called the “give way” vessel, is responsible for avoiding an accident by changing speed or course.

Rules for Meeting Head-On

When there is the chance of a head-on collision, both boats are required to veer starboard to avoid crashing.

Keep in mind, there are many other specific rules for what to do when traveling through narrow channels and river bends, like blowing an air horn once to announce your presence.

Boating Accidents and Insurance

It has been said that you cannot squeeze blood from a stone, and the same is true of boaters who have inadequate insurance coverage. In both injury and wrongful death cases, the victim cannot receive the full, objective value of the claim unless the responsible party has enough insurance coverage. Because most boaters are not wealthy people, there are practical limits determining what you can receive.

Although a case involving severe injury or death may be valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, the boater’s insurance policy frequently does not cover that much money. You should also know that if a person’s insurance does come up short, his or her car and homeowner’s insurance are not available to claim.

It is not unusual, in serious injury cases, for there to be multiple claimants on a boater’s insurance policy. In this situation, usually every involved party races to the insurance company in order to claim as much as possible of the intact policy. If this describes your situation, then your lawyer should look for a boat insurance rider on the responsible party’s homeowner’s insurance, as well as any umbrella policies the boater has.

Some high-end homeowners policies under Chubb Insurance include boat coverage that goes beyond boat-specific policies, but keep in mind that some policies do not cover boats of more than 50 horsepower. It is important for your lawyer to be diligent and careful when handling these complex insurance situations.

Keep in mind that boat injury cases can often involve unique maritime insurance rules, so hiring a competent, experienced lawyer early on will help you navigate this unfamiliar terrain.