Charleston Boat Accident Attorney

With 460,000 acres of lakes, 8,000 miles of rivers, and about 3,000 miles of coastline there’s plenty of room in South Carolina for plenty of boats and their owners. Despite this, accidents can happen. In all activity on the water, there is potential for collisions, which could lead to significant damage, injuries, even death.

If you or a loved one have been involved in recent boating accidents and believe you need compensation for injuries or financial damage, Trey Harrell Auto Accident and Personal Injury Attorney can help. As an experienced Charleston boat accident lawyer, Trey Harrell and his team can become your advocate and assist with your claims, so you can receive what you’re entitled to.

Common Boat Accident Injuries

Boats accidents can sometimes be more damaging than automobile injuries. In cars, there are often safety features like airbags, seatbelts, and brakes, and passengers also generally know how and where to safely sit. Cars also are supposed to follow proper lanes of traffic at proper speeds, while most waterways don’t give much guidance other than to slow down when entering a marina or guessing who has right of way if two boats are heading on the same path.

Boating accidents can cause all sorts of damage including:

  • Broken bones
  • Lower back injuries
  • Neck injuries
  • Brain injuries
  • Cuts and bruises
  • Severed limbs

In addition, water-related damage or death can occur if an accident causes passengers or the driver to fall into the water. Even a collision that does relatively minor damage to one or more boats could still turn tragic if it knocks someone into the water and they are injured or drowned.

How boating accidents occur

Just like auto accidents, there are all sorts of causes of a boating accident. There could be mechanical reasons for a driver losing control. It could be due to inattentive or distracted driving. Boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol can cause drivers to lose coordination or judgment. They also may forget common rules of waterways, such as yielding, or may not have learned them in the first place. Excessive speed also could be a factor – other boaters may not notice an approaching boat in time to get out of the way, or a faster-moving boat could cause greater damage in a collision.

One of the highest reasons for boat-related fatalities is someone falling overboard, especially if they’re not wearing their life jacket. This situation isn’t usually the direct cause of a collision, but it could be a direct result. A boat accident attorney can have a role in learning about how a boating accident took place, including looking at any official investigation reports.

Basics of Boat Safety

The State of South Carolina Department of Natural Resources requires all boat operators to receive a basic boating license if they are under 16 or a boater education card for ages 16 and up. The course is either an online course or a 6-hour in-person course that provides them with basic information about laws, restrictions, and safety details. Boat operators are required to carry their card with them when operating a boat. Not having it if an enforcement officer requests it could lead to a fine. Lacking this could also be an ingredient in determining liability when putting together a personal injury claim.

The courses teach boat safety, including how to navigate at night or in poor weather, what to do in emergencies, what equipment is required to be on board, and basic navigation rules.

Basic rules to avoid boating accidents include always yielding to someone coming into your path on your starboard (right) side. You have the right of way if you’re heading in the same direction as another boat and it is on your port (left) side.

Using a driver and a spotter to observe the water for other boats and hazards is always a smart precaution. You should stay away from boats that may have flags up, meaning someone in the water or a ‘diver down’ flag. It’s also important to follow any posted signs about lowering speeds, especially in no-wake zones and approaching crowded areas with people and other boats.

Who is Liable in a Boating Accident?

After a boating accident occurs, law enforcement and insurance companies may investigate potential causes, although some evidence may be under water. Statements from witnesses are invaluable, such as reports of one boat speeding or another boat going slowly or stopped, such as if the vessel was having possible mechanical problems.

Information will be gathered about who was driving either boat, including their familiarity with boating and local waterways. Their activities that day may also be examined such as if the driver or passengers were drinking or using drugs. Even being out in the sun all day could increase fatigue, diminish response time, or limit ability to see nearby boats or remember rules. The boats themselves could also be examined – a low-powered small sailboat may not be as able to get out of the way as quickly as a larger power cruiser.

An experienced Charleston boat accident attorney will be able to learn this information and have discussions with insurance companies, law enforcement, and other attorneys about possible liability. In some cases, neither party may not have seen each other until it was too late, such as in a sudden storm that limits visibility. But in other cases, one party may not have taken appropriate safety steps, like turning on lights, using their horn or radio, or slowing down.

Interestingly, liability could also be possible for a boat manufacturer, if mechanical problems or defects may have contributed to a collision or injury. Liability is also possible for a boat owner who may have allowed friends or family to use it and they caused a collision, or a boat rental company, if their staff rented to someone unaware of certain rules. Weather can be a factor in liability as well. If an agency does not let boaters know that a big storm is coming and to get off the water, their staff could be at fault.

What to Do After a Boat Accident

Safety comes first. Call 911 or use your emergency radio to call for help especially if there are injuries, people in the water, or a possible sinking. Get people out of the water first and use a first-aid kit for minor injuries.

If a boat or both boats are still able to move on their own, get both to the nearest point on the shore, such as a marina, pier or dock. If one boat is in danger of sinking, get everyone to the other one and stay aboard and wait for a tow and possibly an ambulance if there are serious injuries.

Law enforcement will also focus on treating any health emergencies first, and then proceed with an investigation. People involved in a collision should talk to law enforcement about what they experienced, but avoid statements of fault. Once things are stable, from a health and safety perspective, insurance companies should be notified.

Although insurance companies may invite you to sign a statement soon after the collision or offer you a small settlement quickly, consider talking with a boat accident attorney first. This way they can learn about what you experienced, any injuries you or loved ones may have sustained, and any financial impact that the situation has caused you. All of this information can be part of a personal injury claim.

How We Can Help

The Trey Harrell Auto Accident and Personal Injury Attorney team can provide a free consultation to get to know you and learn about your boating accident and how it has impacted you. We can advise you about what we do, our fee structure, and our typical process. While every claim is unique, we can talk about what we’ve commonly experienced in these types of claims, and what we need from you and from others. We look forward to getting to know you! Call us at (843) 636-8739 or contact us online to make an appointment.

FAQ About Boat Accidents

What if only one boat is involved?

Liability may still be possible even if a boat hits a hazard and there are injuries or damage. The person who owns or rented the boat may be liable if they knew about the hazard or mechanical problems with the boat and didn’t share this info. A municipality that manages that area of the waterway may also be liable if there weren’t any warnings posted or issued.

Do I need to go to court?

Because boat accidents aren’t always as easy to investigate as auto accidents, much of the legal matters usually take place through negotiations and sharing paperwork. Provided there’s no criminal matters associated, such as boating while under the influence charges, many personal injury cases can be settled without needing to go into a courtroom or speak to a judge.

What if I’m partially responsible?

Please share that information with us. Part of the negotiation process between attorneys and others is gathering details about everyone who may have been involved and possible settlements. Both boats may not have seen each other, but one party may end up having more liability than the other.

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