If you have ever been involved in a boating accident, you will know all about the stress, strain, and the confusion involved in such an incident out on the water. Even if you were fortunate and no one was hurt in the accident, you may still be left with expensive repairs that need to be carried out before the craft can be safely used again. This is why many Americans decide to take legal action following an accident involving their craft.
So, what should you do if an accident occurs when you are using your craft? Take a look at our guide, minimize the danger, and give yourself the best possible chance of winning your case if it does go to court.
Immediately After the Accident
Check that no one is in immediate danger
Your first priority following a boating accident must be to make sure that everyone involved is no longer in danger. In many cases, a boating accident may involve one or more parties going overboard. You’ll want to verify that these individuals are rescued and that everyone is accounted for.
Damage to the skull, the spine, or to blood vessels, can quickly prove fatal, as can cardiac arrest. Make sure that no one is in any danger of these severe conditions before continuing.
Maneuver the boat to a safe place
Damaged boats are a danger to other craft in the water. Once you have made sure that no one’s life is in immediate danger, it is important that you do your best to move the boat to a safer location where it will not be an obstacle or pose a threat to other vessels.
Do your best to achieve this with all craft involved and then secure these craft in place with an anchor or line. This will also give you a safe platform from which to work if further rescues are necessary.
Check that everyone involved is now safe or stable
Now that you have made sure no one’s life is in danger, and the boats have been moved to a safer location, you can begin carefully checking and assessing the injuries of everyone on board. Make sure you do this not only for your own craft but also for any other craft which may have been involved, helping their crews as you do so.
Remember that just because someone says they are fine does not mean that they definitely are. Be sure to check each party carefully and to the best of your abilities.
Tend to any injuries as best you can
You may not be a doctor but anyone who is operating a craft, whether on the high seas or simply on a local waterway, should have some degree of training in first aid or medical assistance. Once the danger has been assessed and mitigated, see to it that any necessary first aid is delivered. In the case of minor injuries, this assistance may be enough, but always err on the side of caution and use first aid as a short term measure before professional medical assistance can be sought.
Remember not to move any patient you suspect to have a spinal injury and do your best to stop any bleeding. Keep monitoring any injuries to make sure symptoms do not worsen.
Contact the Coast Guard
You will need to contact the Coast Guard as soon as possible following an accident, although treating injuries and preventing any further danger should take priority. Once you are in touch with the Coast Guard, tell them what has happened, the location of the accident, and whether or not any further medical assistance is required.
Failure to properly notify the Coast Guard in a timely fashion could land you in trouble with the authorities later on and may jeopardize any legal claim you try to make.
Seek medical attention
Remember that any injuries or discomfort may be worse than they first appeared or may need a more professional diagnosis. Assess the wounded following the boating accident and work out who needs urgent medical attention. Once this assessment is carried out, you can begin to make plans to bring the injured to the hospital.
It is always better to send a healthy person for a hospital check-up than it is to let a hidden injury go untreated. Adopt this cautious approach and make sure that everyone makes a full recovery.
Be aware of shock
As the operator of a boat, it is important to keep a cool head in a crisis and to take charge of the incident as best you can. However, it is important to remember not to place undue stress and strain on yourself as you may be suffering from the effects of shock or another issue. Take the time to get yourself checked out for any injuries or damage and make sure you are not left alone in the hours following the accident.
Shock is a serious issue and can cause many problems, both in the long and the short term. It pays not to underestimate the condition, even when you are busy helping others.
Shortly After the Accident
Gather information about boat operators and passengers
Following the accident, you are going to need information to make it easier for the authorities and for legal professionals to do their jobs. This means you will need:
- Full names of all boat operators and passengers involved in the boating accident
- Home addresses of all boat operators and passengers
- Current telephone numbers of all boat operators and passengers
Remember that all of this information needs to be collected, even if the passengers themselves were not injured in the accident or did not play an active role in the incident. Do this for everyone who was involved and anyone who was on board any of the vessels involved.
Seek eyewitnesses to the accident
Depending on where the boating accident took place, there may have been eyewitnesses to the incident who will be able to help with the investigation as it develops. These may include onlookers watching from the shore, operators or passengers from other boats, or anyone else who was in the area at the time.
Get contact information from these individuals but don’t begin questioning or pressing them for answers yourself. At this stage, you are gathering information that will make the eventual insurance claim or legal case easier but you are not doing any investigating of your own accord.
Collect registration information, ID, and insurance details
While names and addresses may suffice, there are other pieces of information that will help the investigation run that little bit more smoothly, reducing stress and strain in the process. These pieces of information include registration and identification details of each of the vessels involved, as well as license details for their operators.
You will also want to gather information regarding the insurance policies of anyone involved in the incident. This means collecting insurance company names and policy numbers. Store this information safely, ready to be handed over to insurance companies or investigators.
Avoid taking legal responsibility
If an accident has occurred as a result of negligence or wrong doing, a claim or case may need to be brought. Keep this in mind and remember the accident could now be an ongoing legal proceeding that you must be careful not to jeopardize. This means you should be careful not to apologize for any mistakes you made leading up to the accident or accept any sort of responsibility for the incident.
Failing to adhere to these rules could make it difficult for you to win any cases you bring in the future. It is better not to talk about what happened at all and merely focus on containing the damage and ensuring personal safety.
Photograph any damage
You will now want to begin collecting evidence that you can use in any upcoming insurance claim or legal action. Carefully photograph each damaged area on all crafts involved, documenting the results of the incident and creating a record which cannot be manipulated or distorted. Hard evidence like this will make the investigation much easier to carry out and will make it simpler to apportion blame in the case of any wrongdoing.
You may also want to share copies of these photos with anyone else involved in the accident. This will make it obvious to investigators and the authorities that the photos are an accurate reflection of the damage caused as they will have been verified by both parties at the scene.
Photograph the scene of the accident
It is also important to photograph the scene of the accident, documenting the weather conditions and any other environmental factors that may have contributed to the incident. This may include submerged reefs, debris in the water, other craft in the area, as well as documentary evidence of water depth and distance from the shore.
Along with the photographs of the damage incurred, it is important to share these images with anyone else who might be involved in the case. If the images are brought up as evidence in court, this step will help to increase their reliability.
After All the Above Has Been Carried Out
Report the accident to the authorities
In many cases, reporting the accident to the relevant authorities is not just a useful thing to do – it’s legally necessary. If any of the following criteria are met, it is your legal duty to report the accident:
- The accident results in a human death
- The accident results in a serious injury which requires hospitalization or urgent medical care
- The damage incurred to any of the craft is in excess of $2,000
- The damage occurred to property is in excess of $2,000 (this amount can be cumulative along with the damage to the vessels)
- The accident results in a disappearance, with the suspicion of death or injury. For example, if someone leaves following a disagreement and does not indicate where he or she is going, this does not need to be reported. However, if someone goes overboard and is not seen to have returned, this must be reported by law.
All of these criteria are covered by federal law, which means that, wherever your accident takes place in the United States, you are bound to report it. There may also be other state-specific requirements you must adhere to.
Check on local reporting requirements
In addition – not instead of – the federal regulations outlined above, there may be reporting requirements laid out in the legal code of the state you are operating in. For example, in South Carolina, you are required to report the accident to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Different states have different requirements so it is important to stay on top of the legal requirements of the state in which the accident occurred. Failure to do so may put any future claims or cases in jeopardy.
Make an insurance claim
You may decide to make an insurance claim for the damage to your boat, or for any medical expenses incurred as a result of the accident. As individual insurers operate their own rules for claims, you will need to consult with your own insurance provider to understand how this process will work.
However, if you feel that someone else was at fault for the incident, you may have grounds to make a legal claim. In this case, you may want to avoid using your insurance and instead seek legal advice.
Make a legal case
It may be that the accident occurred through no fault of your own and was instead caused by the negligence or error of another party. In this instance, you may be able to make a claim to cover the damage to your boat, the expense of any medical treatment required, or any other costs associated with the action.
At Naylor Law, our California maritime lawyers can provide you with any guidance and advice you need as you prepare your claim. Get in touch with our team for a consultation and to learn more about the process of claiming.