In 2012, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with the
United States Coast Guard published a study entitled Recreational Boating
Statistics. According to this research, 4,515 boating accidents had occurred
throughout the nation, resulting in 3,000 injuries and 651 deaths. Also
listed are the top five “primary factors” contributing to
boating accidents: operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper
lookout, machinery failure as well as excessive speed. Additionally, alcohol
use was reported as being the leading contributory factor associated with
fatal boating accidents.
The most recent study within New York State was conducted in 2004 by study
by New York State’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic preservation.
This report revealed 178 boating accidents has occurred within that year,
18 of which had resulted in death. Similarly to the findings made by the
Department of Homeland Security, the New York state’s statistics
revealed that nearly 28 percent of fatal boating accidents involved intoxicated
boaters. In an attempt to prevent these accidents from occurring in the
future, the New York legislature passed a law in 2006, which increased
the penalties associated with boating while intoxicated. Prior to the
enactment of this law, the legal limit of intoxication for boat drivers
was .10. The legal limit was then lowered to .08, and the same criminal
sanctions were enforced against intoxicated boaters as those enforced
against intoxicated drivers of motor vehicles.
Despite the enforcement of stricter legal policies, boating while intoxicated
is still a prevalent cause of accidents resulting injury and even death.
The reckless behavior associated with the intoxicated individual’s
boating may be the direct cause of the accident (i.e., colliding the boat
into a visible dock). However, these accidents are also typically caused
by the driver’s negligent behavior. Such negligence may occur when
the intoxicated boater fails to comply with the legal boating requirements
set forth by state. For example, boats used for recreational purposes
are required to display navigational lights at all times between sunset
and sunrise (in addition to any periods of reduced visibility throughout
the day). Unfortunately, numerous boating accidents involving intoxicated
drivers have been caused by failure to maintain a properly lit boat; reducing
visibility for the intoxicated driver as well as for other boaters. Additionally,
failure to maintain a proper look out and excessive speed in shallow areas
are both common causes for boating accidents. Although this is more likely
to occur when the driver is operating the boat while intoxicated, this
reckless behavior has created accidents by sober boaters as well.
In addition to criminal sanctions, intoxicated and reckless boaters can
be held liable for injuries sustained by victims of the boating accident.
If a lawsuit is filed within the state of New York, two types of law may
apply. If the accident occurred in interstate or international waters,
then Maritime law may apply. Maritime law may also apply if injuries are
sustained while working as an employee on a ship. If this is the case,
a claim must be filed under the Jones Act, and it must be shown that the
injuries sustained were caused by negligence or unseaworthy conditions.
If Maritime law does not apply, then the lawsuit can be brought under
New York negligence law. Under the state’s theory of common law
negligence, the intoxicated driver of the boat can be held liable for
proximately causing the injuries or damages associated with the accident.
Additionally, if the driver is not the registered owner of the boat, joint
and several liability may apply, which allows the plaintiff to sue both
the owner of the boat as well as the driver. Lastly, it is important to
note that a three-year limitation exists with regard to the period of
time in which a victim of a boating accident can file suit against the