Boat Accident Settlement Amounts

This page is about boat accident lawsuits. Our lawyers examine the types of claims we most commonly see and how settlement amounts and jury payouts are calculated. We also look at example boat accident settlements and verdicts and a lens to better understanding how compensation amounts are calculated.

Our boat accident lawyers handle serious injury boat accident cases across the country. If you have been injured in a boating accident, contact us today.

Boat Accident Injuries

Boat collisions cause a range of serious injuries, mainly due to the speed and size of the vessels and the fact that these accidents happen on open water. Additionally, passengers and drivers are unrestrained, resulting in significant movement during collisions. Although boats are required to have flotation devices for emergencies, many operators neglect this safety measure. Consequently, wrongful deaths in boating accidents can occur, not only from the injuries sustained but also from drowning.

Common Causes of Boating Accidents

Operator Error: The most common cause of boating accidents, just like car accidents , is operator error, which includes inattention, reckless driving, and alcohol use. The risk of collision is further heightened if the operator lacks experience.

Speeding: Excessive speed is another leading cause of boating accidents. Traveling at unsafe speeds reduces the operator’s ability to react to obstacles, leading to collisions with other vessels, submerged objects, or shorelines.

Weather Conditions: Weather can be unpredictable, requiring boaters to be prepared for sudden changes. Sudden storms, high winds, and reduced visibility due to fog can all contribute to accidents.

Equipment Failures: Mechanical failures, including engine problems, electrical issues, and equipment malfunctions, can result in accidents.

Navigation Hazards: Waterways are filled with navigational hazards, such as submerged rocks, shoals, and floating debris. Ignoring navigational markers or charts can lead to collisions and grounding.

Types of Boating Accident Cases We Handle

Our national personal injury lawyers handle all types of boat accident injury cases. The term “boat accident” encompasses a very wide range of accidents involving or related to boats. It basically means any type of serious personal injury case connected to non-commercial boating or activity on the water. This includes:

Boat Collisions: The most obvious and most common type of boat accident injury case involves a direct collision between vessels on the water. These are essentially just like auto accident collision cases in which one boat fails to yield or is otherwise negligent resulting in a physical collision with another boat, or an object such as a bridge, pier, etc. In most respects, these type of boat accident injury cases are the same as car accident cases. One boat operator is found to be “at-fault” based on the rules of the waterways, and that owner’s insurance is then liable for any damages.

Passenger or Swimmer Accidents: Passenger or swimmer boat accidents are the equivalent of pedestrian auto accidents. These type of accidents occur when a passenger on a boat or someone swimming in the water is physical injured as a result of a boat owner or operators negligence. An example would be if someone is swimming in the water and a boat operator runs into or over them.

Groundings: Grounding occurs when a boat or vessel travels into water that it too shallow or goes over an underwater feature such as a reef or shoal and becomes stuck. Grounding a vessel can result in a very sudden and forceful stop, causing serious injuries to any passengers on the boat.

Drowning: Drowning accidents can occur if a passenger on a boat goes into the water and drowns as a direct result of the boat owner or operator’s negligence. Negligence in a drowning accident can come in several variations. Negligent operation of the boat can cause the person to go into the water (e.g., running into a bridge or pier). Also, a boat owner can be negligent for failing to provide safety equipment or responding to a passenger in the water (e.g., if a passenger drowns because there are no lifejackets or other necessary safety devices).

Determining Fault in Boat Accident Cases

Determining who is “at-fault” in a boat accident injury case is very important because boat accidents are covered by tort law. This means that the at-fault party will be legally responsible for all damages resulting from the boat accident. This is basically the same concept applied in most auto accident cases where the “at-fault” driver is liable for the damages in an accident. The one key difference in a boat accident case versus a car accident case is that there are more potential parties that can be deemed at-fault for a boating accident. Below is the list of common fault scenarios in boat accident cases:

Boat Operator: The boat operator (or “driver”) is usually the person at-fault in a boating accident cases, especially those involving a collision with another boat or an object. The negligence of a boat operator is determined based on whether they failed to follow navigational or operational rules for boats, such a rights-of-way, etc.

Mechanical Failure: Some boat accidents can be a direct result of mechanical failure onboard the boat. For example, if the boat’s engine goes out causing the boat to run into a pier. When this happens, the boat owner can be held liable for failing to maintain their vessel in working order. However, third parties such as contractors who repaired or performed maintenance on the vessel can also have some liability.

Sellers & Manufacturers: In some circumstances, a boat accident can be directly attributed to a flaw in the boat’s design or a manufacturing defect. When this happens, the boat owner can still be liable to injured third parties, but the manufacturer and/or seller of the boat can also have direct responsibility under product liability law. Our boat accident lawyers do not see a lot of these claims in our own practice.

The determining of fault for boating accident is often a complex process that involves investigation by various authorities. Fault investigations can take a long time and involve witness statements, expert analysis, and a review of applicable regulations.

Nine Factors That Drive Settlement Compensation in Boat Accident Injury Lawsuits

Are there other factors?  Of course. There are thousands of factors that can influence the settlement amount or jury award in a boat accident lawsuit, ranging from the minute details of the incident to the broader legal framework under which the case is adjudicated. However, these are nine factors that most commonly drive settlement compensation and jury payouts in boat accident lawsuits:

  1. Liability: It all starts with can you prove liability and win your claim. The determination of who is at fault is crucial in boat accident cases. In the insurance company thinks it can win the case, you likely will not get a meaningful settlement offer and you are going to trial.  In most case our boat accident lawyers handle, liability is clear cut or close to it.
  2. Severity of Injuries: The extent and seriousness of injuries sustained in the accident are major determinants in driving value. As you would expect, severe injuries that result in long-term disability or significant medical treatment usually result in higher settlements.
  3. Medical Expenses and Lost Wages: The total medical costs incurred, including hospital stays, surgeries, rehabilitation, and ongoing medical care, will significantly impact the settlement amount.  Insurance companies use this number not only to calculate compensation for the cost but also a marker for pain and suffering damages.
  4. Pain and Suffering: Non-economic damages such as physical pain, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life can also contribute to the settlement amount. These are often more subjective and can vary widely but they are usually the biggest element of damages in a case.
  5. Property Damage: The extent of damage to the boat and other personal property involved in the accident will also be considered.  Many boat accident insurance adjusters think you need a lot of property damage to be seriously injured in a boat accident.  Is this true?  Of course not. But it is sometimes a big issue in pre-lawsuit settlement negotiations.
  6. Federal Jurisdiction and Damage Caps: Federal maritime law can apply to boat accident cases, especially those occurring on navigable waters. Federal jurisdiction may impose specific damage caps and rules that differ from state laws. For example, the Limitation of Liability Act allows boat owners to limit their liability to the value of the vessel post-accident. This can significantly impact the settlement or verdict amounts. Additionally, federal courts may follow different precedents and guidelines for awarding damages compared to state courts.
  7. Insurance Coverage: The insurance policies held by the involved parties can impact the settlement. The limits of the policies and the willingness of insurance companies to settle can play a significant role.
  8. Legal Representation: The skill and experience of the your lawyer has a powerful influence on the value of your claims.  The best boat accident lawyers get the highest settlements and verdicts.
  9. Jurisdiction: Beyond federal jurisdiction, the specific state where the case is tried can affect the settlement amount, as different jurisdictions may have varying laws and tendencies in awarding damages.

Boat Accident Personal Injury Verdicts and Settlements

Below are summaries of boat accident verdicts and publicly reported settlements.

  • 2023, Maryland: $8,000,000 Verdict. The accident happened on the York River in Virginia when a sealing plug became dislodged from a pressurized pipe, resulting in a skull fracture and serious brain injury. The injury impacted the man’s personality, and he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder triggered by the traumatic brain injury. His deteriorating condition made him unemployable. The company contracted for the work at the York River Treatment Plant, was found negligent for not providing a hazard-free workplace. The suit claimed negligence as the company’s president and the foreman didn’t heed the warning tags or instruction manual related to the sealing plug, which led to the accident. The victim and his wife received an $8 million jury verdict in Baltimore City Circuit Court. Five million dollars was awarded to the man and $3 million to his wife for loss of companionship. The full financial award is assured as the lawsuit was under maritime law, which doesn’t come under Maryland’s cap on noneconomic damages.
  • 2023, South Carolina: $15,000,000 Verdict. A 19-year-old died in a boat crash. The driver, Paul Murdaugh, also 19, was reportedly intoxicated and belligerent when the boat struck a channel marker and the pilings of a bridge.  Prior to the crash, Murdaugh had used his older brother’s ID to buy alcohol from a Parker’s convenience store. Following the accident, a search for the young woman’s body lasted a week, eventually finding her about five miles from the crash site. The incident drew significant attention to the Murdaugh family, who were obviously already well-known in the area. The family of the young man and other survivors of the crash filed lawsuits against Parker’s Corporation, accusing the store of failing to prevent underage alcohol sales. As the case approached a jury trial, a settlement was reached. Parker’s agreed to a multimillion-dollar settlement, including $15 million for the wrongful death claim and additional amounts for four crash survivors.
  • 2021, Minnesota: $27,624 Verdict. A man went lake fishing with his two children in his boat. Another boat struck them. The man suffered personal injuries. He required medical treatments. The man alleged negligence against the at-fault boat operator. He claimed he recklessly operated his watercraft. The jury awarded $27,624.
  • 2021, Wisconsin: $850,000 Verdict. A steering equipment representative oversaw a recently built tugboat’s operation. He observed from its galley. The captain made a significant maneuver that caused the vessel to pitch. The man was thrown around the galley. He suffered a cervical injury and a traumatic brain injury. The man underwent a neck procedure. He alleged negligence against the tugboat manufacturer. The man claimed the captain failed to warn of the maneuver. He received $850,000.
  • 2021, Georgia: $200,000,000 Verdict. A 7-year-old boy was on a boat with his relatives. His great-uncle operated it. The boat crossed a wake. It took on water. The boy fell from the vessel. His great-uncle reversed the boat. He did not know that his great-nephew was in the water. The boy was struck by the propeller. His body became entrapped. The boy bled significantly. He subsequently drowned. The boy’s family alleged defective design against the boat manufacturer. They claimed it designed a vessel that was prone to bow swamping and failed to warn of this defect. The jury awarded $200,000,000.
  • 2020, Missouri: $2,000,000 Settlement. A man attended a company retreat at a lakeside resort. He was on a rental pontoon boat with his coworkers. Everyone on the boat was intoxicated at the time. The vessel operator cut the throttle back upon reaching the no-wake zone. The man, who stood by the boat’s front railing, fell into the lake. His left arm was cut by the propeller. The man suffered a cutaneous nerve laceration. He was brought to the ER. The man underwent emergency arm surgery. The surgical team saved his arm. The man alleged negligence against his employer. He claimed negligent entrustment. This case settled for $1,000,000.
  • 2019, California: $23,000,000 Verdict. A 22-year-old woman and her twelve coworkers rode on a rental boat. They also went tubing. The boat operator attempted to retrieve the woman. He tried to shift into neutral. Instead, he left the vessel in idle reverse. A coworker on the boat deployed a swim ladder. The woman swam toward it. While reaching for the ladder, the woman’s right leg and left foot became caught between the propellers. Her coworkers pulled her lifejacket up to prevent her from drowning. Forty minutes later, first responders arrived and freed the woman. She underwent an above-the-knee right leg amputation. The woman alleged negligence against the marina. She claimed its staff failed to give safety instructions on propeller strikes and tubing and provided a boat that lacked safety devices. The woman received $23,000,000.
  • 2019, Missouri: $1,600,000 Settlement. Two young adults were in a boat that hit a rock bluff head-on. They suffered fatal injuries. The two’s families alleged negligence against the boat owner. They claimed negligent entrustment. This case settled for $1,600,000.
  • 2019, Virginia: $1,000,000 Settlement. A man was fishing on his boat. He was run over by a tugboat that pushed a barge. The man drowned. His family alleged negligence against the tug boat captain. They claimed he operated the boat despite having his vision obstructed by the barge. This case settled for $1,000,000.
  • 2019, Louisiana: $3,308,094 Verdict. A 22-year-old laborer helped load a generator from a vessel. At the same time, the boat “twin screwed” to remain in place. Instead of staying in place, it departed from the dock. The man fell into the water. He attempted to climb back into the boat. The man unintentionally pulled the generator that ultimately struck his head. He suffered a head laceration and a C4-6 injury. The man received 25 staples. He also underwent a fusion procedure. The man alleged that his employer failed to maintain a safe work environment while the ship’s owner failed to properly dock the boat. He received $3,308,094.
  • 2018, Idaho: $600,000 Verdict. Two 21-year-old boat passengers were killed when their boat was struck by a wake boat. Their families alleged negligence against the wake boat operator. They claimed he failed to maintain an appropriate lookout. The jury awarded $600,000.
  • 2018, Missouri: $4,500,000 Verdict. A 50-something deckhand worked on a tugboat. The captain lost control of the vessel upon leaving the dock. The tugboat turned sideways, struck a barge, and tipped over. Its engine compartment flooded. The vessel became submerged. The man drowned. His family alleged negligence against the tugboat operator. They claimed it lacked safety measures that would have prevented the incident. The jury awarded a $4,500,000 verdict.

Hiring a Boat Accident Lawyer

Our law firm handles serious injury and wrongful death boat accident lawsuit nationwide. If you have a claim, call us today at 800-553-8082 or contact us online.

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