Boating is a popular recreational activity in South Carolina, with thousands of people taking to the state’s lakes, rivers and shores every year. However, weather conditions can often shift abruptly, and failing to stay informed and take the necessary precautions can result in injuries and death.

Victims of boating accidents from bad weather may believe that they have no path to compensation since it’s an “Act of God.” However, the lawyers at Joye Law Firm can help determine if another party is legally responsible and, if so, to seek compensation for your injuries.

Can All Boating Accidents in Bad Weather Be Attributed to “Acts of God?”

Every year, hundreds of people die in boating accidents. In 2020, 767 people died in boating accidents in the United States, while 3,191 suffered injuries. South Carolina experienced 146 boating accidents and 14 fatalities in 2019.

Some of these accidents occur during bad weather, leading some to suggest that they result from what insurance companies call “Acts of God.”  This term refers to a sudden, seemingly uncontrollable event that causes injury or damage to property.

While it is true that some accidents occur due to factors beyond a boat operator’s control, such as unpredicted storms or sudden large waves, the vast majority result from human error. Even in stormy weather, a negligent party may cause your boating injury and be liable for damages you incur.

Potentially Liable Parties

In a boating accident due to bad weather, one or more of several parties may be held liable for your injuries. Potentially liable parties include:

The Boat Owner/Boating Company

In the case of a boating accident, the vessel’s owner may be liable if the accident occurred during bad weather conditions. The owner is responsible for ensuring that the vessel is seaworthy, capable of handling rough weather conditions, and has all the necessary equipment, including navigation lights, flares, a horn or bell, and fire extinguishers.

If the owner fails to ensure the vessel is up to code and outfitted for all weather conditions, they can be liable for damages or injuries.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources also suggests boat owners check the weather before letting their boat leave the dock. If a business such as a cruise ship, merchant marine company, or even a boat rental company ignores information about impending bad weather that could pose a danger and an accident occurs, they can be liable for injuries and property damage. Fault results because boat owners have a duty to ensure the safety of their passengers and crew.

The Operator

The operator must ensure the boat has appropriately sized lifejackets for every passenger aboard, as well as at least one throwable floatation device if the boat is longer than 16 feet. If the operator fails to take this precaution, they may be liable for damages if a passenger falls or is swept overboard in bad weather.

The operator may also be liable if they continue to operate the boat in bad weather after being warned by the Coast Guard or other authorities that bad weather is approaching. The operator is responsible for the safety of their passengers, just like the driver of a car is for their passengers.

Maintenance Provider/Manufacturer

If a boat is poorly maintained, it may be unable to hold up in a storm. For example, having a clear fuel line and functional air filter is essential to the boat’s ability to generate and maintain the necessary power to navigate stormy waters.

If a manufacturer’s specifications and safety features fail to protect the passengers in a storm, the liability may extend to the company that produced the vessel.

The Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for the safety of maritime navigation and protecting the marine environment. As with other military branches, the Coast Guard enjoys the federal government’s sovereign immunity from most civil lawsuits. However, the Coast Guard is not immune from liability for its actions or failure to take proper action if you can prove they breached of their duty of care.

For example, if the Coast Guard negligently injuries someone during a botched rescue attempt,the victim may be able to sue the Coast Guard under the what is known as the Suits in Admiralty Act and/or The Public Vessels Act.

The Importance of Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney to Prove Fault

Proving fault in a boating accident case can be difficult, especially if the accident occurred in bad weather. A knowledgeable personal injury attorney can collect evidence, help you build your case, and navigate South Carolina’s complex boating laws on your behalf.

Once they determine the liable party, your attorney will work to secure compensation for your injuries. This may involve negotiating with insurance companies or filing a lawsuit.

Recover Compensation for Your Boating Accident Injuries

Whether the boat operator failed to detect stormy weather or made poor choices in response to storm warnings, bad weather does not absolve them of liability. Your injuries can require costly medical treatment and keep you from earning income, and you deserve to receive compensation.

Contact the South Carolina boating accident lawyers at Joye Law Firm to hold the negligent party accountable for your injuries and recover a fair settlement so you can move on with your life.

About the Author

Ken Harrell joined Joye Law Firm in 1994, and has been the managing partner since 2006. With 30 years of experience, he protects the rights of injured South Carolinians, including cases involving workers’ compensation, car accidents, and defective products. Ken also leads the firm’s referral practice, helping to ensure that our clients receive the best possible representation. He is a past president of South Carolina Injured Workers’ Advocates, and has served as the co-chairman of this organization’s legislative affairs committee for 12 years.

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