You've planned a day at Lake Allatoona or Lake Lanier. You're swimming, boating, or waterskiing and enjoying your time on the lake. Suddenly tragedy occurs, such as a boat collision, jet ski accident, or an injury to a passenger. Boat and all watercrafts owners should prepare for such an occurrence.
With summer approaching and temperatures warming, most people are looking forward to boating out on the lake. Boating, jet skiing, sailing, and all other lake activities are popular all over Georgia. Unfortunately, many people are seriously injured each year in boating-related accidents that result from the negligent use of boats and personal watercrafts. Whether on Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, Lake Hartwell, or any other of Georgia's beautiful lakes, care for others safety must be practical. Recreational boaters who are not experienced on speed boats, sailboats, jet skis, and other watercrafts often cause accidents resulting in significant injuries to themselves and others.
Common causes of boating accidents include:
- 1/3 of all boating accidents involve a driver who is under the influence of alcohol. Georgia has criminalized boating under the influence and imposes heavy fines and possibly incarceration for such an offense. See Generally O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391 (If you are charged with boating under the influence you will be subject to the same penalties as someone who is charged with operating a car under the influence).
- Severe weather such as winds, heavy rains, or large wakes from other vessels may rock or throw passengers within, or out of a boat. Extreme exposure to sunlight may also cause boat passengers to experience heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses.
- Boat engines produce toxic carbon monoxide, which may cause death or serious injury if passengers are exposed to high concentrations of the gas.
- Accidents most often occur when inexperienced boaters encounter dangerous or unfamiliar conditions, and when experienced boaters are not paying attention to the safety of their passengers.
Under Georgia law, persons are at fault for a boating accident if they act negligent. A person acts negligently if they fail to conduct themselves as a reasonable person under similar circumstances. A reasonable boater would typically adhere to all safety rules and precautions and be mindful of passengers and other boaters. A jury determines whether the boater met the "reasonable person" standard.
Persons who cause a boating accident may incur civil liability, criminal liability, or both under Georgia law. Victims of a boating accident may seek damages from boat owners and operators for property damage, medical expenses, and other losses they have incurred as a result of the incident. Additionally, the State (acting through the Department of Natural Resources, Hall County Sheriff, or Forsyth County Sheriff) may bring criminal charges against a boater if the driver caused an accident while intoxicated or operated their watercraft recklessly or with gross negligence.
The owner of a watercraft may incur civil liability for injuries caused by a boating accident, even though he or she was not the driver. In Gunn v. Booker, 259 Ga. 343 (1989), the Georgia Supreme Court held that under O.C.G.A. § 51-1-22 the owner of a watercraft may be held liable for injuries caused by another driver's negligence if the driver is a family member or the owner has given consent. Consequently, there are two Georgia statutes you should familiarize yourself with before boating this summer:
O.C.G.A § 51-1-21 - Liability of owner of watercraft for torts generally- (a) As used in this Code section, the term: (1) "Owner" means a person other than a secured party (a bank) who has title to personal property or who has the use and possession of personal property subject to a security interest; (2) "Watercraft" means any boat, vessel, or craft, other than a seaplane, used as a means of transportation on water (it is noted that this would likely include all motorized boats; such as pontoon boats, jet boats, ski boats, also includes all sailing vessels, sailboats, jet propulsion vessels, such as jet ski (regardless of manufacturer such as Kawasaki, See Doo, etc...); (b) the owner of a watercraft shall be liable for any tort caused by the operation of the watercraft, in the same manner and to the same degree as the owner of an automobile is liable for torts caused by its operation.
O.C.G.A. § 51-1-22 - Owner's liability for negligent operation of vessel: The owner of a vessel shall be liable for any injury or damage occasioned by the negligent operation of the vessel, whether the negligence consists of a violation of the statutes of this state or of neglecting to observe such ordinary care in such operation as the rules of common law require. The owner shall not be liable, however, unless the vessel is being used with his or her express or implied consent. It shall be presumed that the vessel is being operated with the knowledge and consent of the owner if, at the time of the injury or damage, the vessel is under the control of his or her spouse, father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, or other immediate member of the owner's family.
In conclusion, we are fortunate to have so many natural resources in the State of Georgia. However, with so many people soaking up the sun and enjoying the water, watercraft injuries will occur. When they do it is important to contact our experienced attorneys to advise you of your rights.