02 November 2017

Liability in Boat Accidents

Boating is a popular outdoor activity in Texas to escape the heat and enjoy the outdoors. Each year, thousands of Texans head out on lakes and rivers for some fun. As exciting as boating can be, however, accidents do happen. It is important to understand who claims liability in these cases.

Boating Accidents in Texas

The Texas Parks and Wildlife provides boater education and keeps track of statistics regarding boat accidents. According to the agency’s 2013 Texas Boating-Related Statistics, there were 206 boating accidents resulting in 22 deaths. The agency reports that alcohol plays a role in 50% of all boating accidents. And nearly 85% of boating fatality drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.

A typical boating accident death involves; an open motorboat, weekends between the hours of noon and 7:00pm, and an operator between 26-50 years of age. Careless or reckless behavior behind the wheel of a boat can be just as dangerous as behind the wheel of a car on the highway.

Types of Boating Accidents

Most boating accidents are not caused by bad weather or hazardous water conditions; rather, the majority are caused by human error during times when visibility is good, winds are light, and the water is calm. Some of the most common recreational boating accidents include:

  • Collision with another vessel: Waterways can become quite crowded, especially during the summer months on Lake Conroe and around the coasts of major cities like Galveston. Crowded waterways increase the risk that two boats will collide with each other, which can cause injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to falling overboard.
  • Hitting another boat’s wake: Boats create waves called wakes that trail behind the boat when they are in motion. The size of these wakes depends on the boat’s size and speed and can become large. If another boat comes too close to this wake or approaches it at the wrong angle, it can cause the vessel to capsize.
  • Hitting a wave: Hitting a wave raises the same concerns as hitting a large wake – depending on the size of the wave, it can either swamp the boat and cause it to take on water and possibly sink, or it can cause the boat to capsize if it hits it the wrong way.
  • Collision with a fixed object or land: There are a variety of obstacles on the water that boaters must pay attention to besides other boats, such as buoys, docks, and sandbars. Hitting any of these fixed objects can cause a violent jolt, which can cause passengers to be thrown about or tossed overboard.
  • Failure to have proper safety equipment on board: Boats should have certain safety devices on board, including personal flotation devices, fire extinguishers, distress signals, and proper lighting. The failure to follow these guidelines can cause accidents and exacerbate injuries.

Liability for Boating Accidents

Liability for most boating accidents is based in negligence – the same as with liability for car accidents on land. To prevail on a claim for negligence, the plaintiff must show that the boat operator failed to operate the boat in a reasonably safe manner and that this failure caused an injury to the plaintiff. This can include any conduct that falls below the standard of care that a reasonable boat operator would exercise, including taking the boat out when weather conditions are not optimal, turning the boat the wrong way into a wave and causing it to capsize, going too fast to avoid hitting another vessel, or failing to provide adequate safety equipment.

What If You Signed a Liability Waiver?

Often, the passengers on recreational boats are members of the public who pay the boat operator to take them for a ride. In these cases, the company that owns the boat and employs the operator will often require passengers to sign a liability waiver and release. For a liability waiver to be enforceable, it must clearly and unambiguously state what rights are being waived, including the right to sue for negligence. The terms of the agreement must be written such that an ordinary person is able to understand exactly what they are giving up.

Although these types of agreements are officially disfavored by the courts, courts will generally enforce them when they are clear and clearly written. The only way to defeat a liability waiver is to show that there was ambiguity in it, which could include ambiguity about what activities are contemplated by the agreement, the term or length of the agreement, or the conduct that is subject is subject to the release of liability. If there are ambiguities in the terms that would lead an ordinary person to wonder about the extent of the rights they are waiving, courts may not enforce the agreement. While signing a liability waiver is not an absolute bar to recovery, it can make winning your suit more difficult.

Contact a Houston Boat Accident Attorney

If you have been injured in a boating accident, you may be able to recover damages even if you signed a liability waiver. Contact Scott McLemore for a free consultation with a Houston boat accident lawyer by calling 713 LAW FOR T.