Boating is a popular recreational activity for many people in Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois. Spending a sunny day out on the water is fun and relaxing for the entire family. However, boating can be dangerous at times, and the potential for a boating accident always exists. According to the United States Coast Guard, alcohol use by a boat’s driver is a major contributing factor in numerous boating accidents-third behind only distracted driving and excessive speed.
While Illinois has strict laws against boating while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, many people continue to operate vessels after having too much to drink. Of course, a person’s decision to drive a boat while under the influence can cause severe, or even fatal, injuries.
If you or someone you love suffered injuries in a boat accident that involved a drunk operator, you might be entitled to financial compensation. Consider contacting an experienced boat accident lawyer to help you understand your legal rights and options for compensation.
Types of Boating Accidents That Involve Alcohol Intoxication
A large percentage of catastrophic injuries and fatalities in boat accidents happen as the result of people getting thrown overboard or falling overboard. A boat operator’s intoxication increases the risk of a collision because of their impaired judgment and physical performance.
Some of the most common types of accidents that occur due to the operator’s boating under the influence include:
- Collision with another vessel
- Collision with a fixed object
- Running aground
- Fires on the boat
- The operator falling overboard
Intoxication is one of the leading contributing factors to boat accidents in Illinois and across the country. Impaired operators on the waterways are just as dangerous as drunk drivers on the roadways.
How Does Alcohol Consumption Affect a Boat Operator’s Abilities?
Operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol puts the operator, their passengers, and people in other boats at risk of harm. Alcohol consumption affects a person’s ability to operate a boat safely in many different ways.
Some of the effects of alcohol intoxication are:
- Impaired judgment. Being intoxicated reduces a person’s judgment skills, leading to poor choices and making them more prone to dangerous situations on the waterways. When alcohol consumption reduces the operator’s ability to make sensible decisions, the risk of crashing increases.
- Deterioration of cognitive abilities. Because intoxication affects a large portion of the brain, a person’s cognitive performance takes a toll, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When a person’s cognitive abilities deteriorate from alcohol consumption, that person may not assess a situation properly.
- Impaired physical performance. Boating under the influences results in the lack of coordination, reduces complex motor skills, and slows reaction time. All these effects combined can increase the risk of causing an accident.
- Vision problems. Intoxication slows down the communication between the person’s brain and eyes, resulting in vision problems. In particular, an impaired person may experience a decreased peripheral vision and depth perception, affecting their ability to operate a vehicle or boat safely.
These and many other effects of alcohol intoxication contribute to thousands of boating accidents in Illinois every year. According to the Illinois Recreational Boating Report by the Department of Natural Resources, a third of all fatalities in boating accidents involved alcohol or drug impairment during the federal fiscal year 2020.
Holding Drunk Boat Drivers Accountable
Many people who are out operating boats simply believe that drinking is part of the fun of being on the water. Indeed, alcohol consumption has become part of boating culture. This does not change the fact that drunk boating is still highly dangerous and against the law. When a boat driver drinks and then causes a crash that injures others, that driver should be held liable to the fullest extent of the law.
While criminal charges may result, a criminal case will not provide full compensation to injured victims for their many losses, which may include:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Emotional distress
- Diminished earning capacity
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Permanent scarring
- Pain and suffering
- Wrongful death
Instead, victims must seek such compensation by filing a personal injury or wrongful death claim in civil court. These claims can be extremely complicated, and it is essential to have a highly experienced boat accident law firm handling your case.
Common Injuries in Boating Under the Influence Accidents
Boating accidents are capable of leaving victims with extremely serious injuries, many of which have the potential to affect them for the rest of their lives. Unlike occupants of land-based vehicles, boat passengers and drivers are usually not restrained by seat belts or other safety devices, making it very easy for them to be ejected from the boat and into the water in the event of an accident. In addition, when accident victims end up in the water, it can result in them being deprived of oxygen for a significant period of time, which has the potential of resulting in serious brain damage.
Here are some of the more common serious injuries that boat accident victims can sustain:
- Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) – TBIs can often occur when two boats collide. They tend to happen when a person hits his or her head on an external object, such as a boat’s hull or floor. Even mild traumatic brain injuries can leave victims with serious symptoms that last for months, often forcing them to miss a significant amount of work or school. More severe TBIs can result in long-term cognitive or physical issues that may keep victims from living independently.
- Anoxic Brain Damage – The brain requires oxygen to function normally. If the brain’s oxygen supply is cut off, even for a short period of time, it can sustain damage. Brain damage can start to occur after only four minutes of inadequate oxygen, potentially leaving victims with severe long-term issues with memory, speech, vision, or other functions. When boat accident victims are ejected from their vessel and enter the water while unconscious, they can often be deprived of oxygen for a length of time that can result in serious brain injury.
- Whiplash – This common type of injury when the head moves violently away from the body, causing the muscles and ligaments to stretch. Boat occupants may experience whiplash because of an abrupt stop, turn, or collision with another vessel or object.
- Spinal Cord Injuries – Spinal cord injuries, or SCIs, are an extremely serious type of injury that can leave victims paralyzed or with significant physical limitations. They can occur whenever a person experiences trauma that results in physical force being applied to the spinal column.
- Lacerations – In most cases where victims of boating accidents suffer lacerations, these injuries occur due to coming in contact with the propellers that facilitate the boat’s motion. The propellers rotate at a high rate of speed, becoming a hazard for everyone who fell or was thrown overboard.
- Broken bones – Broken and fractured bones are not an uncommon type of injury in boating accidents, especially when the vessel collides with another boat or a fixed object.
- Drowning injury – When boat occupants are thrown off the vessel, they may drown even if they know how to swim. Drowning injuries may occur because of disorientation, exhaustion, or inability to swim due to injuries sustained in the accident.
- Loss of a limb – If someone falls or is thrown overboard while the boat’s engine is still running, they are likely to be hit by the propellers, which are usually sharp. As a result, a person may lose their limb and suffer other propeller-related injuries.
Regardless of the injury that you suffered in the boating under the influence accident, you need a lawyer to gather medical records and other documentation to prove the extent of your injuries.
Liability for Boating Under the Influence Accidents
In most boat accidents that involve alcohol impairment, the intoxicated operator will be held liable for the damages and losses resulting from their reckless decision to operate the vessel under the influence of alcohol. However, each case is unique, which is why other parties may also be potentially liable for the boating accident.
These parties include:
- Other boat operators
- Employers of boat operators
- The manufacturer of the boat or its parts
- Boat mechanicals or a company responsible for inspecting and maintaining the vessel
- Boat rental company
- Boat passengers
- Government entities
In some cases, there may be multiple at-fault parties, even if the operator of the vessel was boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. For this reason, you might want to schedule a case review with an experienced attorney to discuss your particular case and help you determine liability.
How to Prove Fault in a Boating Accident?
The vast majority of personal injury claims arising from boating accidents rely on the theory of negligence.
When suing another party for your injury in a boating accident, you must establish:
- Duty of care. The operator owed you a duty to exercise due care.
- Breach. The operator breached the duty of care by operating the vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Causation. There is a link between the operator’s negligence and your injury.
- Damages. You suffered actual and compensable damages because of the injury.
Contact an experienced boat accident attorney to help you prove the other party’s fault and recover fair compensation on your behalf.
What Compensation Can You Seek After a Boating Under the Influence Accident?
The recoverable damages in your boating accident case depend on the extent of your injuries.
Under Illinois law, injured victims can receive compensation for their economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
- Economic damages are any quantifiable losses suffered by the victim due to someone else’s negligent conduct. Typically, your lawyer can prove these losses by demonstrating receipts or bills. Economic damages include past and future medical expenses, loss of income, the cost of repairing damaged property, and others.
- Non-economic damages do not have a specific dollar value. These damages refer to any emotional trauma, psychological effects, and physical pain suffered by the victim because of another party’s negligence.
- Punitive damages are available to victims of boating accidents when the other party’s conduct was grossly negligent, reckless, willful, or wanton (735 ILCS 5/2-1115.05). Operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol can meet the definition of reckless conduct.
Contact a knowledgeable attorney to evaluate your specific case and determine what compensation you are entitled to.
How Long Do You Have to Sue Another Party for a Boating Accident?
If you suffered injuries in a boating under the influence accident or any other type of boat accident in Illinois, it is imperative to understand the time limits associated with lawsuits to recover damages. The time limit-or a statute of limitations-depends on the type of your claim.
When suing the at-fault party through a personal injury lawsuit, you have two years to file a lawsuit. The time starts running the date you suffered your injury or the date you discovered or should have reasonably discovered your injury (735 ILCS 5/13-202).
How a Chicago Boat Accident Lawyer Can Help You
If you have been hurt in a boat accident in the Chicagoland area, you may be wondering whether you should spend the time and money associated with retaining legal representation. Accident victims should always consult with an attorney, even if they have already been offered a settlement by the insurance company handling their case. There is no up-front cost associated with retaining the Chicago boat accident attorneys at Abels & Annes. We only collect legal fees from you if we successfully recover compensation on your behalf. Here are some of the more specific ways that a lawyer can help you after you have been hurt in a boat accident:
Determine Whether You Have a Claim – Not every boat accident is legally actionable. Your attorney will thoroughly analyze the facts of your case and let you know whether you may be able to recover compensation. In addition, should the facts of your case not provide a clear answer to whether you have a claim, your attorney will likely conduct an investigation into whether your accident was the result of someone else’s negligence.
Negotiate a Settlement with the Insurance Company Handling Your Case – If your accident was caused by a drunk boat driver, it is likely that liability will not be seriously contested by the at-fault party or the insurance company handling your claim. As a result, the case will likely be resolved through a settlement-meaning that you will accept a sum of money in return for releasing the other party from any future liability. An attorney can negotiate this settlement agreement on your behalf, ensuring that any settlement you accept adequately compensates you for all of your losses.
File a Lawsuit on Your Behalf – In some drunk boating accident cases, the at-fault party or the insurance company handling the case is unwilling or unable to settle the case for an adequate sum. When this occurs, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit to recover the compensation you are owed. In such an event, your attorney will file a lawsuit on your behalf in the appropriate venue and represent you in court.
Call Us Today to Speak with a Chicago Boat Accident Lawyer
At the law firm of Abels & Annes in Chicago, we regularly assist injured victims of all types of accidents-including accidents caused by intoxicated boat drivers. If you have been injured, please call us at 312-924-7575 for a free case evaluation today.