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Helping Accident Victims in and Around Charleston, South Carolina

According to the United States Coast Guard, there were 636 deaths and 2,222 injuries associated with recreational boating accidents in 2022. That's an improvement over recent years. The number of recreational boating accidents decreased by 9% from 2021 to 2022. Deaths were down 3.3%, and injuries down 15.9%. While the improvement is a positive step, it’s important to be aware of the risks. Here's what you need to know about how to protect yourself on the water, and what to do if you are injured in a boating accident that was somebody else's fault.

In one important way, boating accidents are the same as car accidents and other motor vehicle accidents. Every operator is expected to exercise reasonable care for the safety of other people and their property, and to follow safety laws regarding the operation of a boat or other watercraft. An operator who fails to follow safety regulations or is otherwise negligent is typically responsible for any harm that negligence causes.

Common Causes of Recreational Boating Accidents

In some of these circumstances, negligence is obvious. For example, an operator who is driving too fast or who is operating a boat under the influence of alcohol is not exercising due care. But, negligence may play a role in a boating accident even when it is not quite so obvious.

For example, if an accident is caused by equipment failure, it is worth determining why that equipment failed. Did the boat's owner fail to properly maintain the craft? Was the part itself defective? The answer may determine who is responsible for the accident. But, these questions may not be clear to someone who is inexperienced with injury law, and the evidence may be difficult to obtain. So, your best next step after a boat accident injury is to consult an experienced Charleston boating accident attorney as soon as possible.

Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Accidents

While inexperienced and inattentive craft operators contributed to a larger number of accidents, alcohol stands out as the leading cause of recreational boating deaths. In 2022, alcohol contributed to 215 boating accidents. That's just over 5% of the total number of recreational boating accidents reported during the year. But, those accidents account for nearly 14% of recreational boating fatalities and about 10% of injuries.

In South Carolina it is a crime to operate a boat under the influence of any impairing or mind-altering substance. The criminal penalties for operating a boat under the influence escalate with each subsequent conviction, much like the penalties for driving a motor vehicle under the influence. For someone injured by an intoxicated boater, a BUI conviction has an even more significant effect.

In South Carolina, violation of a safety law is considered negligence per se if the person injured is part of the class that the statute was intended to protect. So, if the intoxicated boater responsible for your injuries is convicted of boating under the influence, proving your case gets easier. You will only be required to show the court that the defendant violated the statute, that the statute was intended as a safety regulation, and that you are one of the people the statute was meant to protect. Of course, you will still have to prove your damages to recover compensation.

While it's helpful to you if the responsible party is charged with and convicted of BUI, it is not necessary. If they are not charged, or even if they are charged and acquitted, you may still proceed with a negligence lawsuit. That is because the burden of proof is higher in a criminal case than in a civil case. So, someone may be found civilly responsible even if they escaped criminal conviction.

Criminal Restitution Versus Civil Lawsuit

If the person who injured you is convicted of a BUI or other relevant criminal action in connection with your injuries, they may be ordered to pay restitution as part of their criminal sentence. However, there are several reasons that it is in your best interests to talk to a boating injury lawyer.

Neither a civil lawsuit for damages in connection with a boating accident nor criminal restitution ordered in a BUI case is an exclusive remedy. In other words, you can pursue a civil negligence claim even if you are expecting to be awarded restitution in the criminal case. Often, you will have broader options for recovering damages in a civil lawsuit.

In addition, the person who injured you may not have significant resources from which to pay restitution. That may mean that it takes a long time to receive compensation, or that you are never fully compensated through the criminal court order. On the other hand, the negligent boater’s insurance company will typically cover your losses in a civil lawsuit. To coordinate these two types of compensation and ensure that you receive the maximum available, it is best to talk with your civil lawyer as early as possible.

What if the Injured Boater was Also Negligent?

In a boating accident, just like in a motor vehicle accident, it is possible that there is more than one responsible party. For example, a negligent operator may be partially responsible, while the manufacturer of a defective part shares responsibility. But sometimes, the injured person pursuing compensation is partly responsible. South Carolina employs a “modified comparative negligence” model to decide cases in which the injured person shares responsibility.

That means someone who is partially responsible for their own injuries may still recover damages, as long as they are not more than half responsible. But, their compensation will be reduced in proportion to their own fault. Imagine, for example, that someone was injured in a boating accident and suffered $100,000 in damages. If the court found that the injured person was 25% responsible for their own injuries, their award would be reduced by 25%, leaving $75,000. However, if they were found to be 51% responsible for their own injuries, they would recover nothing.

Get Help after a South Carolina Boating Injury

It can be difficult to rebuild after a serious injury. Attorney Frank Hartman understands that people who have been hurt in boating accidents and other unexpected events need fair compensation to cover their costs, make up for lost work time, and rebuild their foundations after an injury. He has devoted his career to fighting for injury victims in South Carolina. If you have been injured in a boating accident because someone else was negligent, or because there was a defect in the boat or a part incorporated into the boat, you may be entitled to compensation. Call Frank today at 843-300-7600 to learn more about how he can help.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Boat Accidents

Do you have to report a boat accident in South Carolina?

A boating accident must be reported to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources if someone is killed, seriously injured, or is missing after the crash and if a vessel is totaled or there is more than $2,000 in property damage.

Is boating insurance required in South Carolina?

Boat insurance is not mandatory in the state of South Carolina. However, boating insurance is relatively inexpensive, particularly compared with the possible liability following a serious boat accident. If a boater is responsible for an accident and doesn’t have insurance, they will be personally responsible for damages.

Can I recover compensation for a boat accident?

Whether you can recover compensation for your injuries and property damage following a boat accident will depend on who was responsible for the collision. Like car accidents, boat accidents are governed by South Carolina negligence law. That means that if another boat hit you because they were careless, intoxicated, unqualified to operate the boat or otherwise negligent, you may be entitled to compensation. In some cases, other parties may also be liable, such as the manufacturer of a faulty part that caused or contributed to the accident.

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