Columbia Boating Accident Attorney
With a personal injury litigation record of success for over four decades, the Auger & Auger team has fought to defend the rights of accident victims — including those injured in boating and jet ski accidents. Our Columbia boating accident attorney knows that the hours spent on a watercraft don’t always end predictably.
The U.S. Coast Guard released a report last year that discusses personal watercraft accidents in South Carolina and throughout the country. Operator inattention was the leading cause of collisions. Maneuvering a jet ski or vessel on the open water is not all fun and games. Boating requires the same focus as driving a vehicle on the road.
Significant U. S. Coast Guard Statistics
There were 151 boating accidents in South Carolina in 2017, 12 of which were fatal. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 620 accidents nationally caused by operator inattention, leading to 45 deaths and 381 injuries. South Carolina was home to about 500,000 registered boats by 2020.
When you sit behind the controls of a boat, you are taking lives in your hands – your own, your passengers, and anyone else within your reach on the waterways. Safety is a critical responsibility that must be taken seriously.
Practicing SCAN May Turn The Tide
There are so many distractions on the water that it can be difficult to pay attention. You talk to passengers, check out the scenery, have a bite to eat, and maybe even text someone back on land. Each of these behaviors puts you at risk for a collision. SCAN is taught in many safety courses and encourages boaters to stay aware. Here’s a quick breakdown.
- Search: Look at the area surrounding your boat — the faster your speed, the wider your search should be.
- Concentrate: Focus on what you see to determine what it is and whether it’s a potential hazard.
- Analyze: Determine if the object is getting closer. Decide if you are on a collision course, and determine whether other boaters have seen you.
- Negotiate: Decide what you will do; i.e. don’t just react.
Skippers with experience often perform SCAN out of habit, but new operators may not. Our Columbia boating accident attorney team knows that SCAN can reduce the number of accidents, injuries, and deaths from South Carolina boating accidents. While no state law specifically addresses distracted boating, there are laws that dictate appropriate behavior.
Does Your Boat Have All Required Equipment?
Under South Carolina legislation, all boats must carry specific safety items to protect the occupants:
- Personal flotation devices. At least one Type I, II, III, or V device is required per boat, but it’s better to have one for each passenger. By law, children younger than 12 are required to wear a life jacket, even if they know how to swim.
- Navigation lights. Power-driven boats smaller than 65.6 feet should have red and green side lights and a round white light, both of which should be visible from 2 miles away. You must use these lights in any situation of reduced visibility, such as nighttime, gray, or cloudy weather.
- Fire extinguishers. These are easy to forget – often, people don’t think about needing a fire extinguisher when they’re in a boat in the middle of a large body of water. But fires can occur on or inside the boat itself and cause your boat to sink if they get out of hand. South Carolina law requires at least one Type B extinguisher on each boat.
- Noise-producing devices. If your boat is smaller than 39.4 feet long, you should have a way to put out an effective sound signal, such as an air horn.
- Visual distress signals. Any boat traveling on federal water must have USCG-approved visual distress signals, and boats traveling anywhere between sunset and sunrise should have functional night signals.
Who is At Fault in a Boating Accident?
In some cases, this is an easy question to answer, but it can be very difficult in many situations.
First, it’s important to understand that the state of South Carolina’s tort law process uses the system of modified comparative fault in personal injury cases. Modified comparative fault recognizes that injuries aren’t always 100 percent the fault of any one party. When a personal injury case like a boating accident goes to trial, the jury is tasked with assigning a percentage of fault to both parties. A party who is determined to be less than 50 percent at fault can collect damages from the party found to be more than 50 percent at fault, but the specific percentage affects how much the recovery will be. For example, if one party is 70 percent at fault, the other party can seek damages, but their award will be reduced by the 30 percent they were at fault.
Does Every Personal Injury Case End in a Courtroom?
No. Most boating accidents and other personal injury cases are settled with the relevant insurance company. However, the insurance company will be more amenable to making a deal in your favor if they know they’re likely to lose in court. So it’s still important to gather evidence that the boating accident was the other party’s fault.
What is Necessary to Prove Negligence in a Boating Accident?
As with other personal injury cases, it is necessary to prove three things in your boating accident case:
- The defendant, or other party, had a “duty of care.” Boaters are considered to have a duty of care to pilot a boat with a “reasonable degree of care” to keep everyone involved safe.
- The defendant fell short in carrying out this duty. If they were behaving recklessly while operating the boat – for example, speeding, boating while drunk, or simply not paying attention – they may have failed in their duty.
- This failure to honor their duty of care resulted in your injury, which caused you damages.
What Are Possible Damages in a Boating Accident?
Your Columbia boating accident attorney will discuss your accident and the negative consequences it had on your life to ensure they understand all your damages. This is important as it will help you and your lawyer determine a fair amount of compensation.
There are two types of damages: Economic and non-economic. Economic damage is usually where you can point at a receipt and say exactly how much it costs. For example, “My medical bills after the accident came to $12,728.”
Non-economic damage usually doesn’t come with a specific dollar amount, but because the court can only compensate you financially, you will need to decide on a fair amount for this kind of damage as well. For example, you might say you want $20,000 to compensate you for your pain and suffering.
You and your attorney will review the following possible damages when considering your claim:
- Medical costs. This should include not only your existing bills but an estimate for future costs if it looks like you will need long-term care or will have chronic difficulties due to your injuries. Aside from doctor and hospital bills, don’t forget any related expenses – prescriptions, physical therapy, aids to help you with mobility or PT exercises, home health care, and even travel expenses if you have to see a specialist out of town.
- Lost income. If you couldn’t work for a month after your accident, you’re entitled to compensation for the time you lost at work, even if you used paid time off or vacation or sick days – that’s time you won’t be able to use in the future. If you’ve lost the ability to return to work at all, or to do the same work at the same pace as you did before, you also deserve compensation for your lost earning potential.
- Property damage. If your boat or other property was damaged in the accident, this should be covered as well.
- Pain and suffering. Physical injuries can be very painful, sometimes for weeks or months after an accident. Some people may even develop chronic pain from their injuries. Additionally, emotional or mental pain and suffering related to the accident should be considered. It’s not uncommon for people to suffer mental health issues like anxiety, depression, insomnia, nightmares, or PTSD following the trauma of a boating accident.
- Wrongful death. If a loved one was killed in the accident, you could seek damages for loss of consortium or companionship.
- Permanent injury or disability. If your injuries have led to a permanent disability, such as a lost limb, you may seek compensation for that.
- Punitive damages. Unlike economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages are intended not to compensate you but to punish the defendant. Most cases don’t have punitive damages, but occasionally a jury may award them if they feel the defendant’s actions were especially reckless.
Do You Need a Lawyer, or Can You File an Insurance Claim Yourself?
Legally, you have every right to file your own insurance claim. However, your chances of actually receiving a payout are much better if you have an attorney. A survey of personal injury claimants found that 91 percent of those with a lawyer received a payout, while 51 percent of those who didn’t have a lawyer received one. The same survey also found that claimants who secured legal representation collected, on average, about $77,600 in compensation, while those who handled their own claim received an average of $17,600.
Why is there such a big discrepancy between having a lawyer and not having one? There are several reasons for the distinction:
- Insurance adjusters are experts at coming up with reasons to deny your claim. If you’re not an expert on insurance law in South Carolina, it’s very hard to talk them into paying.
- Many people who call the insurance company end up inadvertently weakening their case. Remember that the insurance adjuster is on the lookout for anything they can use to argue that you were at fault for the accident. They will record your conversation and take random things you said out of context, then suggest this is evidence that you were at fault. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you let a lawyer negotiate with the insurance carrier on your behalf.
- Even if you do get an offer from the insurance company, it may not be a good one. The faster you get an offer, the more suspicious you should be, but you should discuss any offer with an attorney before accepting. Sometimes an offer sounds good – until you and your lawyer add up all your damages and realize the insurance company’s offer doesn’t cover a fraction of them! If you realize your claim is worth more than the offer, your attorney can negotiate with the insurer to get you a more fair settlement.
- You may not be able to collect all your damages from one party. Sometimes your claim is worth more than the limits of the at-fault party’s insurance policy. For example, if your damages are worth $100,000, but the insurance policy limit is $50,000, you can’t force the insurer to pay you the $100,000. However, your attorney will consider other possible sources of coverage. Sometimes you may also have a claim against another party, especially if the boat operator and boat owner are not the same person. Or, if a defective boat component contributed to the crash, you might have a claim against the manufacturer. A skilled lawyer can help you find all possible liable parties and fight for the compensation you need to reclaim your life.
What Auger & Auger Can Do For You
In our Columbia boating accident attorney experience, we have seen firsthand the devastation caused by collisions on the water. Spinal cord injuries, lacerations, and broken bones can mean time off work, extensive care, and financial distress. We have dedicated ourselves to victims and believe that you deserve nothing less than our best — and you can trust that we will fight for justice on your behalf.
Medical bills mount up quickly, and we don’t want to add legal fees to your worries. That’s why we offer our zero-fee guarantee based on a contingency fee structure. In other words, you don’t pay unless we win your case!
Call (803) 470-5298 for your free consultation, with no fees due until recovery!