As we head into summer, more and more people are choosing to get out on the water. North Carolina has more than 5,000 square miles of coastline, lakes and rivers to enjoy. One of the more popular ways to enjoy the water is by boat. You may own a boat, rent a boat, charter a boat or take a cruise.
When you go out on a boat, you are expecting a fun day, no one expects there to be an accident. However accidents happen, and boating accidents continue to be a problem in North Carolina. Just recently, a boating accident occurred during Lake Wylie’s Thursday Night Tournament Trail. A boat carrying two fishermen participating in the tournament was hit by another boat. Fortunately, the two fishermen were able to jump overboard and were not seriously injured; the boat sustained damages. A passenger on the other boat sustained minor injuries. The operator of the other boat, a man from Charlotte, NC, was arrested and charged with negligent operation of a water device, property damage and DUI.
North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) is the agency tasked with enforcing boat laws and gathering boating statistics. According to the NCWRC’s 2019 report (the most recent available), boating accidents in North Carolina declined in 2019. There were approximately 134 boating accidents, of which 14 were fatal. By contrast, in 2018, there were 192 boating accidents, of which 30 were fatal. Eight of those accidents were alcohol related. Not surprisingly, the majority of boating accidents happen between May and August.
Of course, the number of boat accidents quite likely exceeds the reported number. North Carolina does not require that all boating accidents be reported, only those where:
- there was a fatality;
- someone lost consciousness or needed medical treatment;
- there was damage to the boat of $2,000 or more; or
- a person disappeared from the boat.
Of the 99 North Carolina counties listed in NCWRC’s report, Mecklenburg County, which is home to Charlotte, was in the top 6 counties for most boating accidents, with 7 crashes, 1 of which was alcohol related.
Boating Laws in North Carolina
Like most states, North Carolina regulates boats and boaters in an attempt to keep people safe. North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission enforces the boating laws which include:
- requiring operators to take a boating education course if they are operating a boat with a 10 HP motor, or greater, and were born after January 1, 1998
- registering all motorized vehicles; this includes both motorized boats and jet skies. Canoes, rowboats and kayaks do not need to be registered
- registering sailboats longer than 14 feet
- restricting the age of boat operators. No one under the age of 14 can legally operate a boat. 14 and 15 year old's can drive a boat if they meet certain criteria including having someone over the age of 18 on board or they passed a boating safety course
- having Coast Guard approved life jackets on board, one for each person
- requiring children under the age of 13 to wear a life jacket whenever the boat is moving
- making it illegal for boat operators to drive a boat while intoxicated or on drugs
Common Boating Injuries
Boating injuries can occur from a variety of situations. Some of the most common include: jumping or falling overboard, hitting another vessel, capsizing or overturning, flooding leading to sinking, running aground, driver inexperience or error, equipment issues, and speeding
Some of the more commonly seen injuries that result from boating accidents include:
- broken bones
- head injuries
- spinal cord injuries
- neck injuries
- back injuries
- soft tissue injuries (sprains, whiplash)
Boating Accident Claims
Personal injury claims arise when a person (the plaintiff) has been injured by another party (the defendant). Property damage can also be recovered in a personal injury claim. In the case of a boating accident, the plaintiff would need to show that he/she was injured by the negligence of the defendant. If the victim of a boating accident dies, then the plaintiff would be the estate of the victim.
The plaintiff will have to show that:
- the defendant had a duty of care;
- the defendant breached the duty of care;
- his/her injuries were a direct result of the defendant’s actions; and
- damages occurred because of the defendant’s actions.
Damages Recoverable In a Boating Accident
Like most personal injury cases, damages are available to those who succeed in proving their case. Damages are intended to make a victim whole, to put them in the same position as they were before the accident happened. This would include costs for repairs to the boat, or if the boat was irreparable, the cost of a new, similar boat.
Recoverable damages are both economic and non-economic. Common damages include:
- medical costs. This includes doctors visits, hospital costs, surgery, rehabilitation, prescription costs, medical equipment (wheelchair, crutches, hospital bed, prosthesis)
- lost wages. If you need to miss time from work due to your injuries, you may be entitled to the wages you lost while recovering.
- property loss, or damage to the boat
- pain and suffering
- punitive damages, but only in certain situations. Punitive damages are not intended to compensate the plaintiff for loss but rather to punish the defendant for their conduct. Punitive damages are available only in cases where the conduct was egregious.
- if you are filing a claim on behalf of a loved one who was killed in a boating accident, you may be able to recover for reasonable funeral expenses and for the loss of the decedent’s companionship.
While some states put a cap, or limit, on damages, North Carolina only puts caps on in two situations. First, caps apply to non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. Second, caps apply to punitive damages. The punitive damages cap in most cases is 3 times the compensatory damages, or $250,000, whichever is higher. There are exceptions to North Carolina’s punitive damages cap, including the case of someone driving impaired.
Our Charlotte, North Carolina Attorney’s Can Help
The Charlotte, NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced personal injury attorneys who can help you if you, or a loved one, were the victim of a boating accident. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.