Are Boat Accidents Covered by Maritime Law?

A boat out on the water. | Patrick Daniel Law
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Before taking the boat out for a lovely afternoon, it might benefit you to know whether you would be covered by maritime law or have to file a personal injury claim after a boating accident. Understanding where to go for compensation in the worst-case scenario can help immensely should you be injured.

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 boat accident attorneys at Patrick Daniel Law have extensive experience handling Texas personal injury cases and maritime injury claims. Call our office in Houston today at (713) 999-6666 for a FREE case review. If you have a viable claim, we will fight to get you the compensation you need and deserve.

Texas Boat Accident Statistics

Who doesn’t like to be on the water on a hot Texas day? However, other boaters’ errors, the water’s unpredictability, and the possibility of faulty equipment make this tantalizing pastime risky.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Annual Report details recreational boating accident statistics. In 2023, boat accidents resulted in $769,868 worth of property damage, 97 injured persons, and 28 tragic fatalities. Operator inattention is the listed cause of the majority of incidents and injuries by far. Vessel collisions and fixed object collisions are the most prominent types of accidents involving boats.

As would be expected, most incidents occur on weekends during the summer months. Open motorboats and personal watercraft (jet skis, sea-doos, water scooters, etc.) are involved in 77.6% of all boating incidents in Texas. Sadly, in 75% of fatalities, a life jacket was not being used.

When you are injured or a loved one is lost in a sudden accident, the statistics don’t matter. You need support, not to be battling to get the basic compensation you require to get by while you heal physically and emotionally. That’s where a practiced personal injury and maritime lawyer comes in.

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, personal injury law will likely apply when boat accidents occur in areas such as Lake Houston, Sheldon Lake, and Lake Conroe, Texas.

However, given Houston’s close proximity 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 Angelina River
  • Sections of Big Cypress Bayou
  • Sections of the Brazos River
  • Sections of the Colorado River
  • Sections of the Neches River
  • Sections of the Red River
  • Sections of the Rio Grande
  • Sections of the Sabine River
  • Sections of the Sulphur River
  • Sections of the Trinity River

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.

Read More: Does Maritime Law Apply to Your Case?

What Are the Differences Between Personal Injury Claims & 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.

Some of the most critical 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, personal injury claims, and wrongful death actions must be filed within 2 years. Federal maritime law claims, meanwhile, must be filed within 3 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 non-economic 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 non-economic damages found by the jury, not to exceed $750,000.” Maritime law also has no cap on economic and non-economic 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 injured at sea have the right to demand a trial by jury.

What Are the Legal Requirements for Filing a Personal Injury Claim After a Boating Accident?

The legal requirements to qualify to file a personal injury claim after a boating accident are the same as filing any other type of maritime or personal injury claim.

  1. It must be established that a person or entity acted negligently or wrongfully.
  2. Proof must be given that those negligent actions directly caused injury to the victim.
  3. Evidence must be provided of the losses suffered by the victim due to those injuries.

Consulting a boat accident attorney with experience in both personal injury and maritime law is the best move when injured in a boating accident. Boat accident lawyers like Patrick Daniel have the necessary knowledge to determine whether your claim is covered under maritime or personal injury law. They can help establish liability and seek the appropriate compensation for your injuries.

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

Boating is not just a recreational activity. Many workers do a variety of 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 while performing 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.

Read More: The Jones Act: Understanding the Purpose of Maritime Law

Who May Be Held Liable for Boat Accident Injuries?

Depending on the details of the boat accident you’re involved in, various people and/or entities could be responsible for the ensuing damages. Liable parties may include:

  • Boat Operator: Most boat accidents are caused by operator inattention and involve collisions with objects or other boats. Therefore, the operator(s) of the boat(s) involved may be the negligent party(ies) legally responsible.
  • Passenger: If a passenger on the boat behaves carelessly or irresponsibly and causes an accident, they could be held liable.
  • Boat Owner: When a boat owner allows an inexperienced or inebriated individual to operate their boat, they may also be held responsible for the accident.
  • Rental Company: A rental company has a responsibility to its customers to ensure that the boat is safe and maintained. If they fail in this regard or knowingly allow unprepared clients to use the boat, they may be liable as well.
  • Manufacturer: The manufacturer may be liable for losses if faulty equipment was involved in the accident or injuries. This could be the manufacturer of the boat, any component that failed, or defective safety equipment.

Sometimes, liability in an accident can be difficult to determine. An experienced boat accident lawyer can investigate, consult experts, and establish who the liable parties are. Then, they can pursue the maximum compensation for your claim.

Determining Jurisdiction

Recreational accidents can, in some cases, be covered by maritime law. Ascertaining which jurisdiction a boat accident in Texas falls under—state or federal—can be complex, yet it is also extremely important.

If you don’t file your claim with the correct court or within the statute of limitations, you could lose your chance to secure compensation for your losses. It pays to be vigilant and consult legal representation as early as possible.

There will be heartache and pain after suffering an injury or losing a loved one. Whether pursuing a maritime claim or filing a personal injury claim after a boating accident, you need legal support to help you through.

Find a trustworthy and driven attorney with boat accident experience to look out for your best interests while you focus your energy elsewhere. They can ensure you seek every opportunity for recompense and meet all necessary deadlines.

Know Your Rights Under Maritime Law for Boat Accidents

In some cases, you may be able to file a personal injury claim after a boating accident. In others, however, federal maritime law may apply.

Read More: What Does a Maritime Injury Lawyer Do?

Whether you hit the water for pleasure or work at sea, it is essential to have experienced legal counsel on your side in the event of an accident. Patrick Daniel 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.

Contact Patrick Daniel Law today for a FREE case evaluation. Our boat accident lawyers serve clients in Houston, throughout Texas, and nationwide.

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