I took in yet another boating accident case the other day. In many ways, it was a typical Finger Lakes boating accident that boating injury lawyers are bound to come across from time to time: Unbeknownst to the boat operator who had been drinking and was on his cell phone chatting, two of his passengers went for a swim. The boat operator then put the throttle in forward, and ran them over. The boat operator then felt the prop of his boat “snag” on what he assumed was seaweed. The trail of blood, and bodies, behind his boat alerted him to the real problem.
Not a pretty picture. And not pretty injuries. I’ll spare you the details. But here’s what you need to know so this same thing doesn’t happen to you or your boating buddies:
- Never drink and drive. Not in a car, not in a boat, not on a bike. Just don’t. The rules for alcohol blood levels, and the penalties, are the same for all motorized vehicles, including boats.
- If you are the boat operator, you need to know what’s going on in and around your boat. That means NO CELL PHONE conversations.
- Keep a proper lookout. If you think your prop just hit seaweed but it turns out it hit a human being, you were not keeping a proper lookout.
- Keep your speed down to a reasonable level. Unlike with a car, it is hard to “brake” with a boat. In fact, it’s impossible.
- If someone’s in the water near your boat, turn off the motor. And you should KNOW if someone is in the water near your boat.
Here’s another thing that is typical about this boating accident: There may be no insurance coverage for it. You see, unlike with cars, boats in New York are not required to have liability insurance. And very few boaters, at least those in the Finger Lakes area, have any. But very often the boat operator’s homeowner’s insurance has coverage. In fact, unless there is a boating accident “exclusion” in the policy, homeowner’s insurance should cover boating accidents, which means they have to pay for a lawyer to defend the boat operator and, if the operator ends up with a judgment against him or her, or there is a settlement, the homeowner’s insurance must pay the injured person compensation.
But in this case, as in others we have handled, the boat operator’s homeowner’s insurance is claiming it does not cover boating accidents. They are trying to avoid their obligation of paying for their insured’s legal defense and liability judgment.
Why is this my problem if I am representing the boating accident victim? Why should I care if the operator is insured? Because if the operator – who is responsible for the injury – has no insurance, we might end up with a judgment against someone who can’t pay it. So we will fight to ensure there is insurance coverage.
In my law office, we have beaten homeowner’s insurance companies every time they have tried to deny coverage for boating accidents. My guess is we will continue with this winning streak in this new case.
By the way, if you are a boater, you ought to check your homeowner’s insurance policy to make sure it covers you in the event you cause a boating accident. If you don’t have coverage, you should either switch to another homeowner’s insurance policy or else buy separate liability insurance for your boat. You don’t want the shame and horror of having accidentally injured a friend or family member with your boat AND the economic hardship of having to pay a lawyer to defend you and pay the injured victim out of your own pocket.
Accidents are terrible. But they have some positive value: They teach us how to avoid them. The smartest people learn from others’ misfortunes. The not-so-smart ones learn from their own misfortunes. Be smart. Learn from this boating accident so you don’t learn from your own. Don’t drink, keep a good lookout, know what’s going on in and around your boat, and make sure you have insurance.