Every summer, boating and their passengers take to the waterways in Illinois to enjoy the best that the state has to offer. Whether it is an afternoon out on Lake Michigan or one of the smaller lakes in the state, Illinois affords residents many different ways to enjoy the water.
Unfortunately, an afternoon on the water can turn hazardous or deadly in a hurry when someone acts carelessly and you or a family member is injured. When that happens, you could not only be left with severe physical problems, but the costs of the accident can also cripple you financially.
Every year, it seems as if there are reports of boating accidents in the media. For example, in 2019, a boat overturned and crashed in the Chicago River. Four people that were on the boat perished in the accident.
You do have remedies when the actions of someone else in the water have caused you injury. You can file an Illinois boating accident lawsuit in order to receive the compensation to which you are entitled for your injuries and property damage. The Chicago boat accident attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC can help you pursue justice and the compensation that you deserve for your injuries.
The Legal Obligations for Boat Operators in Illinois
Anyone who gets behind the wheel of a boat in Illinois must follow state laws that govern boating in state waters. The state restricts many things that would make operating a boat unsafe. For example, here are some of the requirements or prohibitions of Illinois boating laws:
- Anyone on a boat in Illinois must wear a personal flotation device.
- Nobody may operate a boat under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. The legal blood alcohol limit for driving a boat is .08, the same as it is for driving a car under the influence.
- The boat must have all of the required safety equipment.
- Operators must adhere to all posted speed limits.
- Operators traveling at night must use the proper lights.
- Drivers cannot enter a no-boat zone or travel above a certain speed in a no-wake zone.
- Persons cannot operate boats in a manner that is careless or heedless as to endanger any person or property or that endangers life and limb through recklessness.
When a boat operator has broken any one of these laws, it can serve as evidence of wrongdoing in an Illinois boating accident lawsuit.
Statistics About Boating Accidents
The United States Coast Guard puts out a periodic report that contains statistics about boating accidents in the U.S. In 2018, there were 4,145 total boating accidents in the country. The Coast Guard counted 633 fatalities and over 2,500 injuries that occurred as a result of these accidents. There are approximately 5.3 fatalities for every 100,000 registered recreational boats. Roughly three quarters of the people who die in boating accidents perish as a result of drowning.
Boating accidents resulted in total property damage of over $46 million. Given the injuries and deaths, the true costs of these boating accidents far exceeds that as lives are ruined and people endure lasting harm from the accident.
In Illinois, there were a total of 80 reported boat accidents that authorities investigated in 2017. These accidents resulted in 48 injuries and 12 fatalities. However, this number includes only reported boat accidents, and not every boating accident in Illinois is reported to the authorities because boaters may not realize that Illinois law obligated them to report the accident.
Illinois Boating Laws & Injury Statistics
Even though Illinois aggressively enforces its boating laws, it still does not stop drivers from breaking state laws. Illinois issues a total of over 6,000 citations and warnings each year to boat operators. In 2017, Illinois authorities cited 148 boat drivers with operating a vessel under the influence, which in down from 180 drivers the year before.
Boating has actually gotten safer in Illinois over the last decade as the number of accidents is down markedly. However, if you or a family member has been injured in a boating accident, the overall safety trends are little consolation and will not help you face your situation. This is where an Illinois boating accident lawyer can help you.
Possible Causes of Boating Accidents
Boating accidents can be caused by a number of different factors. When out on the water, many different things can go wrong, even if the boat operator is attentive and driving under optimal conditions. Unfortunately, many drivers are either not attentive or the conditions for boating are not the best. Here are some causes of boating accidents:
- The boat operator is exceeding the posted speed limits. For example, the driver can be traveling too fast when approaching a harbor where the speed limits are lower. Alternatively, the operator may be going too fast to control the boat and they hit other boats or swimmers in the water.
- The driver can be trying to operate the boat in bad weather where there are choppy or rough seas.
- There may be an accident and the boat operator has failed to have the legally required safety equipment on board such as fire extinguishers or life preservers.
- The boat can strike an object either in the water or it can hit a dock when it is traveling either at a high speed or at night. For example, the boating accident that killed star pitcher Jose Fernandez occurred when the intoxicated baseball player struck a jetty when speeding in his boat at night after consuming drugs and alcohol.
Potential Defendants in an Illinois Boating Accident Lawsuit
There are many possible defendants in a boating accident lawsuit. This is consistent with the fact that there are many different causes of boating accidents. Here are some possible defendants who could be responsible for your injuries in a boating accident:
- If you are a passenger on a boat and are injured, you may have grounds for the lawsuit against the driver of the boat, especially if there is an aggravating factor such as intoxication. There is some sensitivity in this type of lawsuit given that the person behind the wheel of the boat may be a family member or close friend. Nonetheless, should you choose to do so, you can file a lawsuit against the driver of the boat even if they are a family member.
- If you are a boat driver or passenger and were involved in an accident with another boat, you can file a lawsuit against the driver of that other boat. This is also true if you were swimming in the water and you were struck by a boat.
- If the cause of the accident was a defect or something wrong with your boat, you can file a product liability lawsuit against either the company that manufactured the boat or the one that was the retailer that sold it to you.
- You can also file an accident against any defendant that was responsible for the conditions that surrounded your boating accident. For example, the dock where you were parking or storing your boat may have been negligently maintained and could be the cause of your accident.
Boating Accident FAQs
Here are the answers to questions that people often ask about boating accident lawsuits arising on Illinois waterways.
What Must I Prove in Order to win a Boating Accident Lawsuit?
Like any other personal injury lawsuit, you must show that the defendant was negligent.
Whether you are filing a lawsuit against the driver of the boat that you were on or the operator of another boat that was involved in the accident, the standard by which your case will be judged was whether the defendant acted negligently. The four elements of negligence are as follows:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care. When you get in a boat with someone else behind the wheel, they will almost certain owe you a duty of care just as another boat operator would owe the duty of care to anyone in another boat or the water.
- The defendant breached the duty of care by acting in a manner that a reasonable boat driver would not. Usually, this involves some sort of carelessness or other mistake behind the wheel. For example, if a person is operating a boat at an excessive rate of speed, they are likely not acting reasonably.
- You suffered some sort of injury in the accident whether it is a physical injury, property damage or both.
- Your injury would not have occurred but for the actions of the defendant.
You demonstrate negligence by a presentation of the evidence at trial with witnesses and other means of documentation. Oftentimes, the insurance company wants to avoid a trial so it will concede the issue of negligence and make a settlement offer.
What can I Recover in a Chicago Boating Accident Lawsuit?
You are able to recover both your economic and non-economic damages in a Chicago boat accident lawsuit.
When you receive a settlement of a boating accident claim or a jury verdict in a lawsuit, your financial compensation is supposed to put you in the same position as if the boating accident never happened at all. This means that all of your past, present and future damages are paid for by the insurance company. You can recover all of the following in a boating accident settlement or lawsuit.
- Any medical costs that you have expended or will expend, minus the amount that reimburses your insurance company for what they have paid
- Lost wages from your employment both in the past and future, including any loss of earning capacity
- Pain and suffering for what you have endured, including compensation for future pain
- The costs of any nursing or other care that you need while recovering from your injuries or to care you when you will not recover
- Family members can also be compensated for loss of consortium.
- If the boating accident has resulted in death, there may be damages for wrongful death.
- Any damage to your property caused by the accident, including your boat if it was damaged in the accident.
- If the actions of the defendant were extremely reckless, shocking or egregious, you may be able to recover punitive damages. However, this is rare in a personal injury lawsuit.
What is the Statute of Limitations to File a Personal Injury Case Related to a Boat Accident in Illinois?
A person injured in an Illinois boat accident has two years to file a lawsuit against the responsible parties. In some situations, the statute of limitations may be extended or shortened based on the parties involved or the injured person's age. Therefore, you should consult with a boat injury lawyer as soon as feasible to discuss your case and the applicable statute of limitations.
What Evidence can Help Me File a Strong Boating Accident Claim?
Make sure that your claim is documented to prove the relevant facts of what happened.
In order to prove that the other party will negligent, you will have to be able to demonstrate what they did and why it was unreasonable. This means that you need to present various facts about the accidents as evidence for your claim. This includes the following:
- Photographs of the accident scene including documentation of the damage to your boat
- If the Coast Guard or local boating police was called, a report of the incident showing law enforcement's version of what happened.
- Any witness statements from people who saw the accident in which you were injured
- Your medical records that show the scope and nature of the injuries that you suffered
- Your earnings statements and any proof of your future earning capacity
- Testimony of medical professionals as to what you have endured during and since your accident
If you are able to take picture at the scene of the accident, make sure to document the scene of the accident right after it happened. It is especially important to obtain proof of any intoxication which can include alcohol containers or drug paraphernalia.
Your boating accident attorney will help you assemble all of this information and will assist you in investigating and documenting your case. At first, you will be seeking a settlement of your claim, but the case will go to court if the insurance company does not make a reasonable settlement offer.
Who can Pursue an Illinois Boat Accident Lawsuit?
Anyone who was injured in an Illinois boating accident can file a lawsuit against the party responsible for it.
Boating accident lawsuits are not limited to just drivers of the boats. If you are a passenger in the boat or even some who was swimming in nearby water, you can file a lawsuit against the boat operator who was responsible for your injuries.
As you saw above, many boating accidents occur when people are hit by passing boats. Those on jet skis and tubes are very vulnerable to the actions of boaters since they are exposed in the water. These fun activities can turn deadly in an instant if a passing boater is operating their craft recklessly.
In addition, when you are a passenger on a boat, you can file a lawsuit against either the driver of your boat or the boat that your craft collided with, depending on whose actions caused the accident.
How do I Prove a Product Liability Case Against the Manufacturer of the Boat?
You will generally have to prove that the boat was either defectively designed or manufactured or that the manufacturer failed to warn you of a dangerous condition in order to prevail at trial.
Boat manufacturers are not allowed to sell you a dangerous craft. Boats are electronics intensive and any part of the boat can fail while it is being operated. This includes the generators, electronics, batteries, wires, fuel tanks, drive lines, propellers or any other part of the boat.
When the manufacturer of the boat puts a product out into the marketplace that is defective, they can be made to pay for it. Sometimes, the manufacturer can be held strictly liable for the damage that the product caused so long as you are able to prove that the product was defective. In other cases, you will have to show that the defect made the product unreasonably dangerous.
It does not matter who was responsible for the defect in the product. You have the ability to file a lawsuit against everyone who was involved in the process of manufacturing and selling you the boat. The court will decide who must pay what percentage of your jury award. That is not something that you and your boating accident lawyer need to worry about.
Are There any Other Kind of Boating Accidents That Will Allow Me to File a Lawsuit?
Any accident that occurs on the water where there is any kind of motorized or flotation device involved can lead to a lawsuit when there is negligence involved.
An example of this is the many tour boats that make their way down the Chicago River or the fishing party boats that go out onto Lake Michigan. The operators of these boats owe a duty of care to their passengers to act as a reasonable boat operator would.
The boats that these operators take onto the water must be in proper working order and they must be fully equipped with the required passenger safety equipment. The crewmembers must be fully trained to act in the event of an emergency. When a boat lacks proper equipment or the crew is not properly trained, the operator is the one who is responsible.
Sample Illinois Boat Accident Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Settlements & Verdicts
Plaintiff Verdict for $600,000 (2007) - An eight-year old child was swimming with his father in a raft on Lake Michigan. The defendant's boat rode by the child and its propeller struck the child's foot. The beach was crowded at the time of the accident even though the beach had formally closed for swimmers for the season the day before the accident, and the lawsuit claimed that the boat driver did not maintain a proper distance from the swimmers on the beach. The child's foot was injured and disfigured and suffered permanent damage from the accident. He alleged that he still felt pain even after a year of physical therapy and multiple surgeries. In addition, the child also suffered emotional trauma from being struck by the boat.
Plaintiff Verdict for $2,000,000 (2007) - A nine-year old was riding in an inflatable tube that was being pulled by a boat. There was a man driving a personal watercraft in the area. The man lost control of the watercraft as he was releasing the throttle and collided with the child. She died the next day from her injuries. The family filed lawsuits against the man who was driving the boat that the tube was attached to, the driver of the personal watercraft and the maker of the personal watercraft for product liability. The jury found that the driver of the personal watercraft that hit the child was 95 percent responsible for the accident.
Settlement for $42,500 (1994) - An 18-year old was declared dead in a boating accident when he and the driver of the boat were lost with the vessel. The lawsuit claimed that the driver of the boat was operating the craft while intoxicated. The lawsuit also claimed that the operator of the boat failed to warn the deceased passenger of the poor safety condition of the boat.
Plaintiff Verdict for $1.326 million (1983) - The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the estate of a 23-year old woman who was electrocuted when the boat that she was riding in came into contact with overhead wires. This was a product liability lawsuit against the maker of the boat since the lawsuit alleged that there was no insulation in the mast of the boat that would have protected the woman from electrocution. According to the lawsuit, this constituted a defective design. Over $1 million of the damages were punitive as the jury was struck by the allegations that were made and proven.
Have You or a Loved One Been Injured in a Boating Accident? Get Legal Help Now
At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC, we help you obtain your day in court in order to maximize the amount to which you are entitled after a boating accident on an Illinois lake, river or pond. We will help you present your case to the insurance company. If your boating accident claim cannot be settled, we can then help you try the case in court. We have experience helping accident victims present their cases and call on experts in the field to put your strongest case forward.
We work for you on a contingency basis so there will be no money out of your pocket. We are only paid if you are successful in settling your case or you receive money in a jury verdict.