A large number of Washington State residents enjoy recreational boating on our lakes, waterways, and along the coast. The thrill of fishing, skiing, paddle boarding, and kayaking is hard to beat for exercise and excitement. However, time spent on the water can be full of risks if boat operators are not careful.
When you or someone you love has been involved in a boating mishap, you need help determining who is at fault. If an inexperienced boater damages your craft and causes you injury, you deserve compensation for the bills you now face. At Calbom & Schwab, you can schedule a free consultation with a reputable Washington boat accident lawyer who understands the law around maritime incidents.
Boating Can Be Full of Risks
Even if you are someone who prepares your vessel properly and takes all the precautions, you can be hurt on the water. Sometimes, an accident involves bad luck or the negligence of others. The weather can change quickly, leaving even long-time captains in a bad situation. Often, other boaters take foolish risks and ignore the safety of those around them.
No matter whether you are onboard a craft or swimming in the same area, a collision with a boat, JetSki, or other vessel can affect many individuals. Not everyone has the education or experience to handle a boat, and a boat accident is not like a car accident. There are different laws of physics at play that can cause significant injury and damage.
Boat Accident Statistics
A 2017 report on Recreational Boating Statistics from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard shows that over 4200 boat accidents took place in that year alone. Over 650 individuals died as a result of a boat accident, and there were over 2600 injuries.
When boat operators are inattentive or careless, the chance for harm skyrockets.
Victims suffer head trauma, broken bones, amputations, and drowning. In addition to physical trauma, chemicals such as gasoline and oil that are released in the water can make swimmers sick. They can also be swamped by an excessive wake when boaters speed through no-wake zones. Skiers can be injured by underwater hazards.
Types of Vessels in Use in Washington
What constitutes a “boat” in Washington? The word includes a number of different vessels used for different purposes on the waterways of our state.
Usually equipped with less powerful engines, these vessels still carry risks when overloaded or used in choppy seas. Often used for parties on the water, non-swimmers could fall overboard or be trapped beneath the boat.
- Center console boats: A great family option, these boats offer better visibility for skiers and swimmers around the vessel. However, too many people at the front or back can cause the boat to take on water and capsize.
- Pontoon boats: Extremely popular for gentle cruising and gatherings, these have a large deck balanced on two floats (pontoons). They are very susceptible to heavy wakes or waves and can be difficult to control in rough water.
Sport boats are used for many athletic activities, such as waterskiing, tubing, fishing, and leisurely paddling. They can be a good budget option for people who want to enjoy the water and get started quickly. Lack of training and experience in handling a vessel such as a ski boat, however, can easily put many people at risk.
- Sailboats: Strong winds can blow a sailor off course or into a hazard. On the ocean or windy lakes, large waves may capsize a sailboat, leaving its passengers at the mercy of the weather.
- Kayaks: These non-motorized small craft allow paddlers to explore shallower areas, but their low profile makes them hard to see from larger boats. Heavy waves or strong wakes could turn a kayak over, tossing its owner into the water where rocks or marine life could injure them.
- Personal Watercraft (PWC): Jetskis, Waverunners, and Sea-Doos are popular ways to get the sensation of riding a motorcycle on the water. Their speed and maneuverability are a plus to their riders but dangerous to other boats that may need to dodge a reckless PWC operator.
- Ski boats: These often have larger motors for faster speeds and more power to tow multiple skiers. Their large size and strong propellors can cause significant trauma to anyone caught in the water. Inexperienced drivers who accelerate too fast can injure a novice skier.
- Deck boats: Similar to pontoons, these boats have a V-shaped hull. They are faster than pontoon boats and have similar risks as ski boats.
Those who work in the fishing and tourist industries use larger boats meant to stand up to the sea and other large bodies of water. Although their crew and captains are often more experienced than other boaters, they still face dangerous conditions that could cause an accident.
- Catamarans: Frequently used for fishing or to take tourists for water activities, these craft can be tricky to dock properly. They are often risky for those with balance issues who could fall overboard or tumble down steps located in the hulls.
- Fishing, crabbing, and trawling boats: These boats are usually used on the ocean in Washington and present unique risks because of their longer time on the water and fishing equipment. Experienced sailors may get careless and be thrown overboard in rough seas.
Often built to be a second home, these vessels can be used for long sailing adventures or even cross oceans. Their larger size makes it harder to correct their course and may give their captains a false sense of security when harsh weather looms.
- Cabin cruisers: Often larger boats with a motor and sails, these have living quarters below deck. They can capsize in heavy seas, and carbon monoxide poisoning is a risk in enclosed spaces.
- Yachts: Usually much larger than other boats, these vessels can be big enough to compete with ocean-going ships for weight and mass. They can be hard to maneuver if smaller watercraft get in their way. For example, piloting a yacht upriver puts fishing and ski boats in potential danger.
Compensation Options for a Washington Boat Accident
Washington is one of many states that do not require owners to carry specific boat insurance. You can purchase coverage, but the chances are high that another boater who injures you or damages your boat will not have a policy. When this is the case, you could have the option of filing a claim against their homeowner’s insurance policy.
However, how much damage is covered depends on the type of boat and its horsepower, and bigger boats are often excluded. If your bills are extensive and the other owner does not have a separate boat policy, your next step is likely a personal injury lawsuit.
Whether you pursue an insurance claim or lawsuit, you will need the guidance of knowledgeable boat accident lawyers like those at Calbom & Schwab. There are important deadlines and steps that are necessary to secure the maximum compensation available for you. We can handle the legal complexities while you recover from your injuries.
Potential Damages You Can Recover in a Boat Accident Claim
Placing a value on a boat accident claim is challenging since every mishap will be unique regarding who is at fault and how the accident occurred. When filing an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit, you must demonstrate negligence on the part of the person at fault. You will also need to account for your expenses related to the incident to claim them as damages.
You can ask for economic and non-economic damages. Items with a fixed value, such as medical bills, are considered economic losses. The emotional toll you suffer is calculated as your non-economic losses. Washington does not limit how much you can be awarded in these damages, so it is in your best interest to ask for every penny you are owed.
Your attorney can help you consider losses you may overlook to build a fair and appropriate amount to request. Damages from a boat accident often include items such as:
- All medical bills
- Anxiety or depression
- Emergency transport fees
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of income while you recover
- Loss of future earnings if you are disabled
- Pain and suffering
- Permanent disability
- Physical therapy
- Prosthetics or other medical devices
- Repair or replacement costs for your watercraft
- Scarring or disfigurement
- Surgery, ICU, and ER costs
- Travel costs for treatment
When the worst happens, and someone dies in a boat accident, the surviving family members may pursue a wrongful death claim. They can seek financial relief for all of the deceased’s medical expenses, burial costs, and the damage to their future caused by the death. If a parent dies, children can be left without their guidance and comfort, and parents face a lifetime of grief if a child is lost.
How Do I Prove Negligence After a Boat Accident?
The Revised Code of Washington 79A.60.030 outlines the negligent use of watercraft in our state. It says that negligence means piloting a vessel “in disregard of careful and prudent operation.” This includes weaving in and out of waterway traffic, overloading the boat, or driving a vessel toward swimmers or objects in a reckless manner.
It is also illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Adults over 21 can be arrested if their blood-alcohol content (BAC) measures .08% or higher. Boat captains must also take care not to anchor within a channel where they might block other boats.
All these factors can be used by your boat accident lawyer to support a claim of negligence against the boat owner who hit you. Your attorney will need to show a preponderance of the evidence to prove the four elements of negligence, which are:
- The defendant owed you and others a duty of care on the water.
- They failed to uphold that duty.
- You suffered injury and property damage as a direct result of their failure.
- You have expenses related to your injury and damage.
Not every accident ends in a lawsuit, but when someone behaves recklessly, you may have few options besides suing to recover your losses.
Top Ten Causes of Boat Accidents
The US Coast Guard produces a report about the top ten causes of boat accidents in the United States. In the most recent reporting year, the contributing factors that led to the most incidents were:
- Operator inattention – 546 accidents
- Improper or underage lookout – 506 accidents
- Operator inexperience – 458 accidents
- Failure of machinery – 358 accidents
- Excessive speed – 282 accidents
- Alcohol use – 274 accidents
- Heavy wake or wave – 235 accidents
- Weather – 184 accidents
- Violation of navigation rules – 170 accidents
- Hazardous water – 140 accidents
While most accidents are caused by some kind of operator negligence, there can be situations where faulty motors or other components can contribute to a mishap. In these cases, your boat accident attorneys may find multiple parties can be held responsible. Entities such as boat manufacturers, engine producers, repair shops, and dealerships can be included in a claim.
Your legal team will rely on critical evidence to demonstrate liability. They may gather this information from such sources as:
- Cell phone records
- Coast Guard inspection reports
- Criminal and civil records of those involved
- Expert testimony on boating, physics, and maritime law
- Maintenance records
- Manufacturer production records
- Photos and videos from witness cell phones or cameras
- Security camera video
- Weather reports and water conditions
- Witness statement
Washington Statute of Limitations for Filing a Boat Accident Claim
Washington law mandates that all personal injury lawsuits must be filed within three years from the date of the injury. In boat accidents, the clock starts on the date of the accident. It is critical that you work with a boat accident lawyer as soon as possible since it takes time to collect evidence and develop a solid claim.
If you wait until after the filing window closes, you risk losing your chance to seek compensation.
Rely on Calbom & Schwab to Be Your Washington Boat Accident Lawyer
Since 1945, our firm has been dedicated to serving our clients with compassion, honesty, and diligence. We understand boating laws and personal injury claims, litigating aggressively to obtain the maximum compensation available for your injuries and property damage. You can recover with peace of mind when you turn over the legal details to a Washington boat accident lawyer at Calbom & Schwab.
Whether you need help filing an insurance claim or intend to pursue a lawsuit, do not delay hiring an experienced law firm to guide you. We can begin assessing your case in a free consultation with no risk and no obligation. Learn more about your options by contacting us today.