Greenville Boating Accident Attorney
The beautiful waterways and gorgeous Greenville weather lure residents and visitors alike outdoors to enjoy the many activities available. Active water sports are a favorite, but things can go very wrong when operators lack experience, maneuver their vessels recklessly, fail to follow the rules of the water, or drink alcohol while operating a boat or jet ski.
Auger & Auger Accident and Injury Lawyers recognize that every person who operates a watercraft in Greenville is held to the same legal standard, and it should go without saying that no one is above the law. If you or a loved one has been injured in a boating or jet ski accident that can be attributed to impaired operation, negligence, or error, our Greenville boating accident attorney is ready to fight for your rights. You deserve to be compensated for your financial losses, medical expenses and pain, and suffering — but the investigation needs to begin immediately to gather the evidence necessary to prove your case.
Causes of Watercraft Accidents in Greenville
A 2017 report on boating statistics by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Coast Guard, shows that alcohol was the 5th most common cause of boating accidents in South Carolina. These incidents led to 102 deaths and 227 injuries. Alcohol was the primary contributing factor to fatalities.
While it’s easy to blame intoxication for accidents on the water, it’s not the only cause. More common risky behaviors include operator inattention, improper lookout, and operator inexperience. All of these risk factors have a presumption of some type of negligence. This lack of attention to the safe operation may be even more dangerous when operating a jet ski due to the size of the craft compared to others on the water.
When a person operates a boat or jet ski recklessly or negligently due to inexperience or a lack of training, they are putting everyone at risk, including other operators, passengers, water skiers, people being pulled on tubes, and sometimes even people on shore. Even though operating any type of watercraft in South Carolina is a serious responsibility, the restrictions are fairly lax:
● No course required for persons 16 and over.
● Those under 16 years of age don’t have to complete a course if they are accompanied by an adult at least 18 years old.
● There are no restrictions for watercraft with fewer than 15 horsepower motors.
Understanding Jurisdiction in Boating Accident Cases
If you were injured in a boating accident, your case may be handled differently depending on the location of the accident. Crashes on a waterway used for interstate or international commerce are addressed under maritime law. However, Greenville residents are more commonly involved in boating accidents on lakes and non-commerce waters, which are covered by South Carolina negligence law.
Proving Negligence in a South Carolina Boating Collision
If a boat or watercraft operator caused an accident in which you were injured or a loved one was killed, you may feel that the operator was negligent. If so, your first step should be to contact a Greenville boating accident lawyer to determine your options. Depending on the situation, you may be able to seek compensation from the boat owner, the boat operator (who may or may not be the owner), a third party (such as the manufacturer of a defective boat component), or the insurance carrier for one of these parties.
In any case, you will need to establish three things to prove negligence:
● The negligent party had a duty of care. Generally, boat operators are expected to take reasonable precautions to avert collisions and injury. This includes following state and local laws and avoiding reckless behavior, like boating under the influence or speeding in a no-wake zone.
● The negligent party breached their duty of care. Your attorney will work to show that the other party failed to take reasonable steps to keep you or others safe.
● You were injured and suffered damages as the result of this failed duty of care. We’ll go into more detail about potential damages later, but these may include medical costs, lost earnings, pain and suffering, permanent disability, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium if a loved one passed.
Determining Liability in Your Boat Accident Case
Liability is not always as clear as it might seem. If a speeding boat driver runs into you while riding a jet ski, you may assume they are at fault. It’s true that the operator will be cited if they broke any laws and could even be charged with a misdemeanor or felony if their negligence led to serious injuries or death. However, in some situations, the boat operator isn’t the person you would file a claim against.
Under South Carolina Code 50-21-120, the owner of a boat has certain responsibilities, such as making sure the craft is numbered and registered, and that it’s in safe operating condition before it leaves the dock (regardless of who is driving). Under most circumstances, the boat owner is responsible for any damages that result from the negligent operation of the boat, again regardless of who is actually negligent. In other words, if you loan your boat to a friend who behaves recklessly and crashes into another watercraft, you could be liable for the associated damages, even if you always pilot the boat safely. (This is why we recommend buying liability insurance for your boat, although it is not required by state law.)
Exceptions to Code 50-21-120
There are a few exceptions to this rule. If the boat that caused your injuries was taken without the boat owner’s knowledge or permission, they are usually not liable. However, if the person who took the boat lives in the owner’s household, it is generally assumed that the craft was used with the owner’s knowledge and consent.
Boat liveries, or businesses that rent out boats, are also not liable if a renter’s negligence in using the boat causes injury. Such establishments usually make this clear to patrons by asking them to sign a form acknowledging the business is not liable for any accidents in the boat. One caveat to this rule is that the boat livery is still responsible for ensuring the boat is maintained and safe to operate. So if the accident is caused by a mechanical problem the livery manager knew about and failed to fix, the livery might be liable after all. In this situation, the boat owner – not the boat operator – would be negligent.
Filing a Claim Against the Boat Owner
Although it isn’t legally required, many boat owners see the value in buying liability insurance for their boat. In cases where the owner is liable, we typically begin by making a claim on their insurance policy for your damages. Sometimes the process is simple and we can quickly negotiate an equitable settlement for the client. Other times, the insurance adjuster may argue that the boat owner wasn’t liable for some reason. When this happens, we’re prepared to collect as much evidence as possible and continue to negotiate. Usually we’re able to work things out, but if not, we will defend your right to compensation in court.
When the Boat Owner Isn’t Liable
In these cases, if there is evidence that the boat operator was negligent, your Greenville boating accident lawyer may explore the possibility of suing the operator directly. This is because there usually isn’t a relevant insurance policy in situations where the boat owner is not liable.
Sometimes suing the boat operator is a good solution, especially if there is ample evidence they were negligent. However, if the operator has few assets, you may not be able to collect all or even most of the compensation you’re owed. When there is little chance of recovering your damages, your lawyer will advise you to consider if a time-consuming and stressful lawsuit is worth undertaking.
Third Party Liability
Even if seeking damages from a negligent boat operator isn’t a feasible option, we will still seek out any other avenues for recovering your damages. In some cases, a third party – an entity that wasn’t directly involved in the collision – may be liable. Here are a few examples of situations where third party liability may occur:
● Defective parts or work. Sometimes, two boats collide even though neither boat operator was negligent. If a mechanical problem caused one of the boats to malfunction and crash, there are several parties who could be liable, and your lawyer may need to conduct a thorough investigation to learn what happened. When there is evidence that a relatively new part failed for no apparent reason, the manufacturer might be liable for selling a defective component. On the other hand, if the component was supposed to be replaced by certain milestones, and the boat owner failed to perform this regular maintenance, the owner might be liable. Another possibility is that a mechanic or repair worker made a mistake when installing a new component or fixing a problem.
● Dram shop laws. Alcohol and drug use are among the leading contributing factors in boating deaths, according to the US Coast Guard. In certain limited situations, South Carolina allows an injured party to sue the establishment that served an intoxicated person who went on to injure the plaintiff. In order for this to be an option, the establishment must have either illegally served alcohol to a minor, or to a person who was already clearly intoxicated. You and your attorney will also need to prove that this “overserving” was the proximate cause of your injuries – in other words, that the other boater caused the accident specifically because they were intoxicated.
Damages in a Boating Accident
You and your Greenville boating accident attorney should discuss all the potential damages you may have suffered in your accident to determine how much of a settlement to seek. Here are some categories of damages that your lawyer may ask you about to better understand your losses:
● Medical bills. Healthcare can be very expensive, especially if you’ve suffered a serious injury due to being ejected from a boat or injured in a collision. Your lawyer will ask for copies of your current medical bills, including additional costs you may have for things like physical therapy, mobility aids, or traveling to see a specialist in another city. If you are still in treatment, you’ll also want to estimate future costs.
● Lost income. After your boat accident, you may have missed days or even weeks at work. Even if you had paid days off, your accident forced you to use these up, and you deserve compensation. If your injuries led to a permanent inability to return to work, you also deserve compensation for future lost earnings.
● Property damage. Your attorney will need repair estimates for your boat and any other items damaged in the crash (such as a phone or laptop).
● Permanent disability or disfigurement. If your boating collision induced a permanent disability, such as a lost limb or paralysis from a spinal cord injury, you can seek compensation for this loss.
● Pain and suffering. A boating accident may be traumatic, leaving you with substantial physical and emotional pain.
● Loss of consortium and companionship. If you’ve lost a loved one in a boating accident, you can seek damages for loss of companionship and other intangible benefits of a relationship.
Auger & Auger Greenville Boat Accident Lawyers
Our Greenville boating accident attorney is your advocate. We represent victims of boating accidents in cases where the negligent party was intoxicated, inattentive, inexperienced, or failed to follow the law. During your no-cost case evaluation, Auger & Auger Accident and Injury Lawyers will review the details to determine your best course of action.
Ideally, we would like to send our team to the accident location so we can document every detail of the accident and determine the best course of action. Don’t let money worries stop you — our zero-fee guarantee means you won’t pay for our services until we win your case.
Call (864) 991-3532 today for your free consultation, with no fees due until recovery!