Charlotte Boating Accident Lawyer

The Charlotte area is home to one of the area’s most scenic lakes. Lake Norman is a popular summer destination and one of North Carolina’s most visited lakes, while its smaller but still popular cousin, Lake Wylie, sits on the southwestern edge of Charlotte. Lake Hickory, High Rock Lake, and Lake James are also popular lakes utilized by Charlotte residents. These areas are great places for boating and jet skiing during the summer. Regrettably, the increase in activity on the lake also increases the number of boat-related injuries, sometimes fatal, which are often the result of negligent operation or BUI (boating under the influence).

Timing of a Boating Accident Investigation is Essential

Due to the nature and location of water-related accidents, an investigation must be performed before the evidence needed to support your claim has vanished. Boats and jet skis can be moved from the scene rather quickly and hidden from sight, unlike cars or other land-based vehicles. In addition, eyewitnesses are usually on vacation and hard to track down once they return home. We strongly encourage you to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer immediately after your accident for your free consultation.

Experienced Boat Accident Lawyer

The Charlotte boat accident lawyers at Auger & Auger have been helping victims of boat, jet ski, swimming, waterskiing, and personal watercraft accidents and injuries for over 20 years.

“We know the concerns and frustrations that a person can have following an injury on the water, especially in locating insurance coverage to pay for the mounting medical costs, lost income, and injuries that they received. The sooner a boat accident victim hires us, the better off they will be in the long run,” said attorney Herb Auger.

Partner Herb Auger is the lead trial attorney on boating accident cases and is familiar with Federal Maritime Law and its interaction with North Carolina’s laws regarding water-related accidents.

Why Do Charlotte Boat Accidents Happen?

An average of one person per year dies on Lake Norman due to a boating accident. In one case, a 9-year-old boy was killed while on a Lake Norman boat operated by a 15-year-old girl. She followed another boat too closely when they collided, killing the young boy. According to an official, the one variable that could prevent a lot of boating fatalities is a life jacket.

The following lists a few of the common causes of boating or jet ski accidents:

  • Lack of experience operating a boat
  • Boating under the influence
  • Excessive speed
  • Not wearing a life jacket
  • Not paying attention

Since 2010, NC has required boat operators under the age of 26 to pass a boater education class to operate a personal boat or other watercraft. Still, loopholes in the law exist, providing lax rules for rental boat operators. In 2011, a young woman lost an arm and a breast when a man who had never operated a boat before rented a boat and then accidentally backed over her while she was in the water.

State law also requires that boat operators be 14 years of age or older. Just as with a motor vehicle, boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal. Recent statistics confirm that the most common cause of boating accidents and 16% of boating fatalities in 2012 resulted from boating under the influence. If you are operating a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and someone sustains an injury due to your negligence, you are personally responsible and the state will charge you with a felony.

Who Has Legal Responsibility for a Boat Accident?

The boat owner is considered the responsible party in most situations, including incidents where a family member who lives with the owner is operating the boat at the time of the accident. However, sometimes there can be confusion over whether the boat owner consented to another person operating the boat, and these situations can become complicated. If you have questions about legal responsibility in a boat accident an attorney will help you understand the details of your specific circumstances.

What About Boat Insurance? Will It Cover Your Costs After an Accident?

This is a common question among people hurt in a boating accident. Boatowner or yacht insurance policies generally cover three things: physical damage to the boat, liability to injured parties other than yourself and your passengers, and medical cost coverage. The medical portion will pay for injuries you or your passengers receive on the boat, but there is often a policy limit of as little as $1,000 per person. Unfortunately, this doesn’t begin to cover the costs for many boaters with serious injuries.

And what if you were hurt due to another boater’s actions? For example, they may have caused a collision by cutting you off or ramming into your boat. Or they may have bumped the boat you were in, causing you to fall overboard and hit your head. In some cases, people swimming or waterskiing have also been injured by irresponsible boat drivers. If the other boater is at fault, you may file a claim with their insurance policy. However, some people run into difficulties getting their claim paid at this stage for several reasons:

  • The policy may not cover the kind of accident you had. There are two types of boat insurance – named-peril insurance and comprehensive If the other boater bought named-peril insurance, they might have saved a few dollars on their monthly premium. These policies only cover specific accidents named in the policy, hence the title. If your accident wasn’t one of those, they don’t have to pay anything. (However, there may be other options for seeking compensation, which we’ll discuss later in this article.) A comprehensive policy generally covers a much wider range of accidents, and it’s more likely that your injuries will be covered. However, there may still be some exclusions in the policy that prevent your claim from being paid.
  • The policy will cover your claim, but your costs are higher than the policy limit. North Carolina does not require a minimum amount of boating insurance. Suppose you have extensive medical bills, property damage, plus other costs from your accident, and the other boater bought a cheap policy. In that case, you may only be getting a fraction of the damages you’re due.
  • The boater and/or their insurance carrier may claim that you are at fault, so it’s not their concern. Many boating accidents are covered by federal maritime law if they happen on a body of water that can be used as an “interstate of foreign commerce.” This means that there is an important distinction between boating accidents covered by federal maritime law and other personal injury cases in North Carolina. This state uses contributory negligence statutes, in which an accident victim can’t collect damages if they contributed even one percent of the fault in the incident. Federal maritime law uses comparative negligence statutes, where the accident victim can still receive damages as long as they are found to be less than 50 percent responsible for the accident. However, their damages are reduced by the percentage they were at fault. While comparative negligence rules are more lenient to the accident victim, the insurance carrier may still be able to pay less on a claim if the victim is partly responsible. Either way, the insurer benefits from claiming you had at least some responsibility in the collision. As a result, the insurer may claim that you were mostly at fault, and they don’t have to pay anything in the hopes that you will take their word for it. Or they might make a very low offer, noting you shared some fault. But in a trial, the jury might find you were only a small percentage at fault, or that you had no fault. Don’t let an insurance company bully you out of compensation. Call a boating accident attorney right away.
  • The other boater does not carry boat insurance. Some people mistakenly think a homeowners insurance policy covers their boat, but this is only true of certain small watercraft. In some cases the liability portion of a homeowners policy may cover a person injured by the policyholder’s boating excursion, but not always. Incidents involving larger boats, jet skis, and airboats are not typically covered.

Are You Out of Luck if the Responsible Party’s Insurance Company Won’t Pay Your Claim?

Not necessarily. Don’t argue with the insurance company if you are struggling with bills from a boating accident caused by someone else’s negligence. The insurance carrier rep is trained to rebut most arguments that the average person makes when appealing a claim. Insurers often record their calls for “quality purposes,” then use any statements you might have made to suggest the accident was your fault, even if that wasn’t remotely what you were trying to say!

Instead, call a Charlotte boating accident attorney right away. Depending on your situation, they may be able to negotiate with the insurance company to get you compensation. When a lawyer gets involved, the insurance company rep usually recognizes that they are now dealing with someone who understands boating and insurance laws. If they make unsupported claims that you were at fault, your attorney can explain all the evidence to the contrary. Of course, the insurance company could invite the lawyer to file a lawsuit if they really think you’re not at fault, and sometimes that’s just what we do. But in many cases, the insurer will consider the expense of a lawsuit and the odds they will win one, and they decide to discuss a settlement instead.

In situations where the specific kind of accident wasn’t covered by the policy, where the boater had no insurance that applies, or where the problem is a policy limit, we will help you explore other options for seeking damages. These may include:

  • Suing the responsible party directly. If they don’t have a policy that covers your injuries, or if it only covers a portion of your expenses, you can sue the boater for damages not otherwise covered. However, if it appears that the other boater doesn’t have enough assets to cover your damages, this avenue may not be worth pursuing.
  • Looking into other insurance coverage. As mentioned above, in some situations you may seek compensation from the other boater’s homeowners insurance instead of their boat insurance. If your own boatowner insurance includes uninsured/underinsured watercraft coverage, we may be able to make a claim on this policy. If you were riding on any kind of commercial craft at the time, such as a rented jet ski or a boat operated by a tour company, you may be covered by that entity’s liability insurance.
  • Suing third parties. Occasionally a third party may have contributed to the accident as well. For example, if the other boater crashed into you because the boat malfunctioned, you might be able to sue the manufacturer of the faulty part that went bad. If the boat that hit you was stolen or there is considerable evidence that the owner did not consent to its use by another party, you may be able to sue the person who was operating it at the time.

No Fee Until Recovery

Growing medical bills, serious injury, aggressive insurance companies, mental stresses, lost wages, and pain and suffering are just a few of the costs you or a loved one may be dealing with after a boating or jet ski accident. In the worst case scenario, you may have funeral preparations and costs to bear.

We will deal with the insurance companies and handle your case so you can focus on healing. We only charge a legal fee when we recover the settlement for your case. If you or someone you know was injured in a boating accident, call the experienced Charlotte boat and jet ski accident attorneys at Auger & Auger Accident and Injury Lawyers for your free consultation at (704) 364-3361.