Recreational boating is fun, yet the stakes are high. Boats can collide within one another, run aground or make hard contact with docks. A minor mistake can have severe consequences and lead to property damage or personal injury. Big mistakes can even lead to criminal charges. Thousands of people are out on the water on any given day. Vessels of all different sizes share the same waterways, not everyone at the helm has the same experience with and fundamental understanding of the Rules of the Road. This can be a recipe for disaster especially if an operator is distracted, fatigued or inebriated.
After a collision, even a minor one, a lawsuit is likely. This is because the insurance company for the other vessel is not going to want to pay out on a claim. While you may believe you were not at fault for a collision the simple truth is that a court will most likely find both operators at fault. The Rules of the Road require even a vessel with the right of way to take evasive action. If a court finds two or more vessel operators at fault they will apportion a percentage of fault to each operator. This is called the doctrine of comparative negligence. Therefore, if you are found to be 10% at fault and the other vessel operator is found to be 90% at fault, you are still responsible for 10% of the damages to the other vessel.
If you have been involved in a collision with another vessel you have a duty to preserve evidence. The other vessel operator has the same duty but you should have an experienced maritime attorney communicate that demand to preserve evidence to the other party.
An allision is the technical term for when a moving vessel makes contact with a stationary object like a moored vessel or fixed object like a pier, bridge or bulkhead. When this happens there is a presumption of fault on the operator of the moving vessel. However, there are exceptions to this presumption. These exceptions are when:
The object was not visible (such as a submerged object)
The contact with a fixed object occurred during normal mooring procedures and the object was of the type that should have been able to withstand an impact.
The object posed an obstruction to navigation.
The stationary vessel or other object was also guilty of some statutory or other fault.
There are also defenses to the presumption of fault. As the presumption is one of negligence, the moving vessel may overcome the presumption if (1) the moving vessel was without fault; (2) the allision was the fault of the stationary object; or (3) the accident was inevitable. Examples of how one may be able to overcome this presumption is if the allision was caused by an act of God, or a mechanical failure or other cause unavoidable by the exercise of due care may be a defense.
If you have been injured or suffered damage to your property due to a collision, allision or grounding you should contact an experienced maritime attorney. Your case will be governed by maritime law.
Contact a maritime attorney at Leeward Law for a free and confidential consultation.