Are Boat Accidents Covered by Maritime Law?

Maritime Law in Boat Accident Claims | Patrick Daniel Law
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Boating is a popular pastime in and around Houston. With multiple lakes, bays, and reservoirs open to recreation, there are many opportunities to enjoy swimming, fishing, tubing, and other activities, or just to relax on the water.

Unfortunately, boating accidents can have tragic consequences for operators and their passengers, as well as people in the nearby vicinity. Serious injuries and fatalities may occur when boats malfunction or are improperly operated.

Pursuing compensation for losses stemming from a boat accident can be difficult. This is especially true if federal maritime law applies to your claim.

The attorneys at Patrick Daniel Law have extensive experience handling Texas personal injury cases as well as maritime injury claims. Contact our office in Houston today for a free case review.

When Does Maritime Law Apply to Boating Accidents?

Generally, bodies of water within the borders of a state are subject to the laws of that state. Therefore, when boat accidents occur in areas such as Lake Houston, Sheldon Lake, and Lake Conroe, Texas personal injury law will likely apply.

However, given the close proximity of Houston to the Gulf Coast, we have seen boating accidents that fall under the purview of maritime law. Location is a key consideration in determining whether or not maritime law applies in a given scenario.

The following factors may apply in your claim:

  • Texas state waters extend 9 nautical miles from the shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico
  • Maritime law applies to vessels out at sea as well as those on “navigable waters”
    • The Code of Federal Regulations defines navigable waters as “waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide and/or are presently used, or have been used in the past, or may be susceptible for use to transport interstate or foreign commerce.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Fort Worth District (which encompasses most of northern, central, and eastern Texas) identifies the following as navigable waters:

  • Sections of the Brazos River
  • Sections of the Colorado River
  • Sections of the Trinity River
  • Sections of the Neches River
  • Sections of the Sabine River
  • Sections of the Angelina River
  • Sections of Big Cypress Bayou
  • Sections of the Sulphur River
  • Sections of the Rio Grande

So, if you were injured in a boating accident that took place more than 9 nautical miles from the shores of Texas or on navigable waters as defined by federal regulations, maritime law will likely supersede state personal injury law in your claim.

What Are the Differences Between Personal Injury Claims and Maritime Injury Claims Involving Boat Accidents?

If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a boating accident, it is in your best interest to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. Maritime law is made up of complex regulations, and it is crucial to have knowledgeable assistance navigating these rules. 

Contact a Boat Accident Lawyer Today

Some of the most important differences between boat accident claims covered by state law and cases where maritime law applies include:

  • Statute of Limitations: The statute of limitations is the length of time you have to bring a claim after an accident. In Texas, boat accidents and other personal injury claims must be filed within two years. Federal maritime law claims, meanwhile, must be filed within three years.
  • Comparative/Contributory Negligence: Texas is one of many states that does not bar recovery if the injured party is partly responsible for the accident. This is known as the principle of comparative negligence, and it also applies in maritime law cases. Some jurisdictions employ the principle of contributory negligence, which bars recovery if the plaintiff shares any degree of responsibility; nearby Alabama, for example, uses a contributory negligence standard.
  • Damage Caps: In Texas, there is no cap on economic or noneconomic damages in accident claims. Punitive damages are subject to a cap of $200,000 or “two times the amount of economic damages;  plus … an amount equal to any noneconomic damages found by the jury, not to exceed $750,000.” Maritime law also has no cap on economic and noneconomic damages, although the courts are divided on the availability of punitive damages (primarily in cases involving injured maritime workers).

Unlike personal injury claims, which are typically tried before a jury, maritime law cases are only heard by judges in federal district court. However, maritime workers who are injured at sea have the right to demand a trial by jury.

What If I Was Working on a Boat at the Time of the Accident?

Boating is not just a recreational activity. Many workers are employed to do a variety of different jobs on boats of all types and sizes.

Maritime law for workers injured at sea is very different from state workers’ compensation laws. Unlike the vast majority of workers’ comp claims in Texas, seamen can sue their employers for damages related to an injury or accident on the job.

The Jones Act (formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920) gives seamen the right to file lawsuits for negligence. If you were injured in a boat accident in the course of your job, you may be entitled to maintenance and cure (a legal term for the compensation maritime workers are owed for medical and living expenses) as well as additional damages.

Know Your Rights Under Maritime Law for Boat Accidents

Some boating accidents may be covered by your state’s personal injury law. In other cases, however, federal maritime law may apply.

Whether you hit the water for pleasure or you work at sea, it is important to have experienced legal counsel on your side in the event of an accident. Patrick Daniel Law has the skill, knowledge, and resources to help you navigate applicable state and federal laws, file a claim with the correct court, and pursue the compensation you deserve.

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Please call Patrick Daniel Law at (713) 999-6666 today for a free case evaluation. Our boat accident lawyers serve clients in Houston, throughout Texas, and nationwide.

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