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Virginia Boating Accident Injuries and Wrongful Death:  Who Is Responsible?

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Recent news reports of a $4 million settlement in a wrongful death case arising from a Virginia boating accident are a somber reminder of the risks of recreational boating. With the abundant opportunities for boating activities in our state — including here in Virginia Beach and nearby — accidents can and do happen. When a Virginia boating accident does occur, who is responsible for compensating victims and their families for injuries and wrongful death?

Virginia Boating Liability Law

Recreational boaters are subject to a number of special laws and regulations. For accident injuries and wrongful death, however, the personal injury laws that apply to boating accidents are the same as the Virginia laws that apply to other types of injuries, such as car accidents.

If a person is injured in a boating accident, and someone else caused the accident, the at-fault person may be legally liable and responsible for compensating the injured victim for his or her injuries. The standard that applies is negligence. Generally, negligence means acting in a careless or reckless manner or failing to use reasonable care under the circumstances.

Virginia applies a rule of pure contributory negligence in accident cases. Under that rule, if the injured victim contributed to his or her injuries in any way, the victim cannot recover compensation from the at-fault party. That is true even if the at-fault party is more at fault.

In some cases, boating accidents can be caused by defective products or machinery. In those cases, product liability law will apply. The manufacturer may be responsible for injuries.

When a boating accident causes someone’s death, and another person is responsible for the accident, the family of the victim may be able to recover compensation under the Virginia wrongful death statute. In wrongful death cases, family members are compensated for their losses resulting from the victim’s death. Damages are calculated differently in a wrongful death case than in a lawsuit for compensation for injuries.

Causation and Fault in Boating Accidents

By their nature, serious boating accidents present complex circumstances and complicated factual issues. It can be particularly difficult to determine the cause of the accident and ascertain who was at fault. Extensive investigation is often required.

The United States Coast Guard compiles recreational boating accident statistics on a nationwide basis. Reports are issued annually. Those reports include information about common causes and factors in boating accidents.

Consistently, the Coast Guard reports that alcohol is a leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. It follows that alcohol use contributes significantly as a cause of all recreational boating accidents. Use of alcohol while operating a boat — and even while riding as a passenger — is extremely high risk.

In addition to alcohol use, there are five primary causes of recreational boating accidents:

  • Operator inattention
  • Operator inexperience
  • Improper lookout
  • Excessive speed
  • Machinery failure

Operator error is not the only frequent cause of boating injuries. Boat propellers cause a surprising number of injuries. Installing available safety features and equipment and following propeller safety rules is essential for recreational boaters.

Another underestimated hazard of recreational boating is the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. It cannot only harm you, but it can cause death. Knowing the risks and symptoms of CO poisoning in boating is a critical part of recreational boating safety.

One important — but not surprising — statistic in the Coast Guard report is the fact that the vast majority of boating deaths occur from drowning. What is surprising is that of those fatalities, more than 80 percent of the victims were not wearing life jackets. Many of those lives could have been saved, if the victim had been wearing a jacket. Wearing a life jacket may not seem cool or comfortable at times — but it could save your life.

Numerous special laws and regulations apply to recreational boating. When those laws are broken, the violations may be evidence of causation or fault in an accident.

Talk With a Trusted Virginia Beach Attorney About Virginia Boating Injuries and Wrongful Death

If you’ve been seriously injured in a Virginia boating accident — or if you’ve lost a loved one in a boating accident — consulting with a personal injury attorney who understands Virginia law and practice is essential. When you’re injured, getting medical attention is clearly the most critical priority. But you should also talk with an attorney at the earliest possible time.

Especially for boating accidents, as time passes, it becomes more difficult to interview witnesses and gather evidence. Boating accidents require substantial investigation, and often require consulting with experts to determine the cause of the accident. Any delay will make the investigation more difficult.

Having a local attorney is extremely important in a boating accident. If your accident was in Virginia, our state’s laws will determine whether you can recover compensation, as well as what compensation you can recover.

Virginia Beach personal injury attorney Jeff Brooke has knowledge and experience that make a difference in a case involving boating accident injuries or a wrongful death caused by a boating accident. If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries — or if you lost a loved one — in a boating accident in Virginia, we are here to help. Contact us by phone at (757) 552-6055 or by using our online contact form.

Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.

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