How to Prove Liability in a Boating Accident

Missouri has an abundance of waterways for fishing, boating, and recreational water activities. Like the state’s traffic rules that govern the roadways, Missouri has several laws that apply when traveling by boat.

As a resident of St. Louis, you may enjoy a day on the Mississippi or the Missouri River, not fully aware of the differences between the traffic laws on city streets versus boating laws on waterways. Understanding these differences is crucial if you are involved in a boating accident and need to prove liability.

Rules of the Road vs. Water: What You Need to Know

On the water, the rules of the road take on a unique shape. Unlike clearly marked lanes and signs on land, waterways rely on navigational aids and boat behaviors to guide traffic.

For instance, there are rules for right-of-way based on the types of vessels involved and their relative positions, just like cars at an intersection. Additionally, operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or speeding in restricted zones, is just as illegal as it is with motor vehicles.

Also, seatbelts are required for adults in the front seat of a vehicle and all children under 15 in Missouri. Similarly, boating rules require coast-guard approved life jackets in every vessel, with a coast-guard approved personal flotation device for any boat passenger under 7 years old.

What Makes Someone Liable for a Boat Accident?

Liability in boating accidents is similar to that of car crashes. A boat operator may be liable for a collision if they breach their duty of care to passengers or violate a state boating law and endanger others.

Negligent actions such as boating under the influence, speeding, or failing to yield the right-of-way can all indicate liability by a boat operator. For example, if a boat operator drives their vessel while intoxicated and causes an accident, they may be liable for any resulting injuries. 

Inexperience or lack of proper training can also contribute to liability in a boat accident. All Missouri boaters must obtain a boater safety identification card or a driver’s license with a boating safety endorsement. They must take an MSHP-approved boater safety course to receive their card or endorsement.

How to Prove Liability in a Boating Incident

Like any other incident, a boating accident can be distressing. However, you must act quickly to protect your interests and prove liability. Right after the accident, ensure everyone’s safety and get medical attention for any injuries.

Report the incident to the Missouri State Highway Patrol as soon as possible. Reporting is required for accidents in which a person disappears or dies, suffers an injury, or in which property damage exceeds $500. 

Document the accident scene with photos, videos, and a written account of the events while they’re fresh in your mind.  Your boating accident attorney from Cofman Townsley can use this evidence to determine liability in the event.

Depending on the incident, you may need to focus on specific evidence to prove your case. For example:

  • Collisions with other vessels: A boating accident can occur when two boats collide on the water. In this scenario, it is essential to record and preserve evidence by taking photographs or videos of the damaged vessels and capturing the location and time of the incident. Gather contact information from the other boat’s operator and any witnesses present.
  • Capsizing or sinking: A boat may capsize or sink due to severe weather, overloading, or structural issues. If you find yourself in this situation, document the vessel’s condition before it sinks or during the salvage process. Take photos or videos of the damage, and save any relevant equipment or parts that may help determine the cause.
  • Operator negligence or recklessness: If your boating accident results from the operator’s negligence or reckless behavior, gather evidence that shows the operator’s actions, such as witness statements, photographs, or videos that capture the behavior or unsafe maneuvers.
  • Equipment failure: Malfunctioning or defective equipment on the boat can lead to accidents. If you experience an accident due to equipment failure, document the condition of the equipment, take photos, and preserve any parts that may have contributed to the incident. Additionally, record any maintenance or repair history that could be relevant.
  • Collisions with fixed objects: Accidents can occur when a boat collides with fixed objects like docks, piers, or submerged hazards. In these scenarios, document the damage caused to the vessel and the fixed object. Take photographs, note the location and time, and collect any relevant witness statements to support your case.

Anchoring Your Case with Confidence

Dealing with a boating accident can be an overwhelming and complex process. Establishing fault requires a strong understanding of waterway rules and regulations, and gathering evidence requires tact and timeliness. With professional guidance, you can navigate Missouri waters with confidence.

At Cofman Townsley, we have experience navigating the St. Louis legal system and understanding the unique challenges that come with boating accident cases. Whether you are just beginning to consider your options or need help strengthening your case, our experienced team is ready to offer the support and expertise you need.

Reach out to us today to schedule a free consultation. With Cofman Townsley, you’re not just a client; you’re family, and we’ll do everything we can to ensure you’re treated fairly and justly.