Liability in Boating Accidents: Who Can Be Held Responsible?

Sep 14, 2023 | Blog

Boating Accident

Virginia features many beautiful rivers and easy access to the Chesapeake Bay, making it a hotspot for boating enthusiasts who love the outdoors. Long three-day weekends and summertime make for more trips on boats. But with so many boats navigating Virginia waters, accidents are bound to happen.

If you’ve been hurt in a boat crash, a Virginia boat accident attorney can help you recover damages. Depending on the circumstances of the crash, several different parties may be held liable.

Potential Liability for a Boating Accident in Virginia

If another boat crashes into you, you might assume that the boat operator is responsible, but another person or entity could be liable as well. 

For example, you could hold the boat owner responsible for not maintaining or repairing the boat. If the person driving the boat rented it, and the rental company didn’t maintain it, you may be able to recover damages from the company.

Sometimes, boats fail because of a defective part. In this case, you might hold the manufacturer liable for the defect.

Keep in mind that Virginia is a “pure contributory negligence” state. That means if you were even 1% at fault for the accident, you may not be eligible to recover damages from the accident.

Common Causes of Boating Accidents

The U.S. Coast Guard reported 4,040 boating accidents and 2,222 non-fatal injuries in 2022. Some common causes of boating accidents include:

  • Operating a boat while distracted
  • Operating a boat while drinking alcohol or using drugs
  • Speeding
  • Boating in hazardous waters
  • Boating in poor weather
  • Failing to maintain the boat
  • Failing to look out for hazards

What to Do After a Boating Accident

In Virginia, boat operators are required by law to file a boating accident report to the Department of Wildlife Resources when:

  • The accident causes death or injuries beyond those that you can treat with first aid
  • A person on board disappeared in the accident
  • The accident caused more than $2,000 of damage to the boat or its equipment

If you fail to make a written report, law enforcement can punish your inaction as a  misdemeanor.

After a boating accident, it’s important to see a doctor even if you don’t think you’re badly hurt. You could be in shock after the accident, which means you might not immediately feel any pain. But injuries can reveal themselves days after an accident, and you could be more hurt than you first thought.

Boating Accident Laws Vary by Jurisdiction

Boating accidents are complicated because, unlike car crashes, the body of water in which the accident occurred determines jurisdiction. It’s important to know whether state or federal laws apply to your accident before filing a claim.

If your accident happened on navigable waters (channels for transportation of people and goods), federal laws may apply. Federal laws may also apply if the operator who hit you uses the boat for commercial, rather than recreational, activities.

Otherwise, Virginia law governs non-navigable boating accidents. If you’re unsure which jurisdiction applies to your case, call a Virginia boat accident attorney for advice.

Damages for a Boating Accident in Virginia

Just as with car accidents, it’s possible to recover boating accident damages for:

  • Your medical bills (current and future)
  • Long-term help if you need someone to care for you at home
  • Emotional trauma
  • Disfigurement
  • Lost wages if you’re too hurt to work
  • Property damage to your boat

Contact a Virginia Boat Accident Attorney Today

If you’ve been hit by a careless or negligent boat operator, you could recover damages for your medical bills, lost wages, and much more. A Virginia boat accident attorney from Geoff McDonald & Associates can build a strong case to help prove liability in your boat crash.

Contact us at (804) 888-8888 for a consultation today.

Geoff McDonald and Associates: 804-888-8888.


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