Marina and Marine Rental Company Negligence Can Result in Injuries
Illinois has virtually innumerable lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water that are popular with summertime boaters, including Lake Michigan, Chain O’Lakes, the Chicago River, the Des Plaines River, and the Illinois River. Not surprisingly, many Illinois residents take to the waterways every summer, joined by tourists and visitors. For most people, the experience is safe and pleasant and results in nothing more than great memories of a day on the water.
But in 2016, there were 73 reported boating accidents, resulting in 36 injuries and 11 fatalities. That doesn’t include accidents that weren’t reported that might have resulted only in minor injuries. Eleven of those fatalities occurred in 11 separate accidents. Seven occurred during the week, and four happened on weekend days. Eight fatalities were under clear conditions, and nine occurred in calm waters. The winds were light to moderate in the case of each of the 11 fatalities, and there was good visibility in nine of the 11 deaths. In the 10 of the 11 deaths, the boat operator at fault had no formal boat safety educations, and in three of the 11 fatal accidents, alcohol or drug impairment was a factor. These statistics go to show that even in ideal weather conditions, boating accidents happen quite easily.
If you think 2016 was an anomaly, you are mistaken. Every year there are deaths on the waterways of Illinois caused by careless, untrained, and drunk boat and water craft operators. A common factor in these fatal boating accidents is that marinas, boat rental companies, and boat owners fail to warn inexperienced or untrained boat operators about the dangers of operating water craft without adequate instruction or while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Some of these marinas, boat rental companies, and boat owners even sell or give alcohol or drugs to inexperienced boat operators.
While Illinois enacted a law (SB3433) that took effect on Jan. 1, 2016 that stiffened Illinois boating laws, requiring that all boat operators born after January 1, 1998 obtain a state boating safety certificate before operating a boat with an engine of 10 horsepower or greater, there was only a slight decrease in accidents on the waterways of Illinois.
Marina Operators and Marine Rental Companies Continue to Engage in Dangerous Practices
Marinas rent boats to members of the public with little regard to whether those people are competent to operate a boat. Many times, the rental company will operate under the assumption that anyone who is over 20 years old has the required safety certification. This is not always the case. Further, even if these marinas and rental companies check the safety certifications, they continue to advertise their services with provisions such as these:
- Packaged Beer/Liquor/Wine – and ICE!
- Lounge, Restaurant, Patio and Live Entertainment
They then follow up the offer of alcohol with disclaimers in their rental agreements, such as these:
During the term of this agreement, Lessee shall be solely responsible for the safe and careful operation of the leased items. . . . Lessee shall be liable for and will pay for any and all loss or damage to leased items and or equipment during the term of this lease resulting from any cause whatsoever, as well as any consequential and incidental damages arising during or after the term of the lease. . .. Lessee assumes all risks and liability for injuries or deaths of persons and damages to property, whether or not insured, however arising from an incident to the use, operation or possession of the item, whether such injury or death to persons be to persons in the leased items or in boat or place.
Many view these kinds of terms as an attempt on the part of marinas and marine rental companies who are renting boats to the public to divorce themselves from liability while simultaneously profiting from providing products that will make it more likely that their renters will, in fact, operate the rented boat unsafely. While it is possible to purchase boat rental insurance, this does not address marine rental companies’ efforts to play both sides, offering products that make negligence by the renter more likely while simultaneously denying liability for anything that happens on the water.
Marinas and Rental Companies Try to Use Contracts to Avoid Liability
Boat rental companies routinely require renters to sign a waiver accepting all responsibility for any damages to the boat, the people on board, or damages caused to other boats. In contrast to this, it is becoming more common for marinas and other companies that rent boats to provide insurance for their renters. This is based on the theory that the entity renting the boat is liable for what happens while the renter is operating the boat. This is, of course, expressly contradicted by the contracts that many marinas offer to those who rent their boats. Nonetheless, such insurance is available, and it is intended that companies that offer boats for rent, not those who rent the boats from such companies, be the ones who purchase such insurance.
While the marina or rental company likely would not be liable for accidents involving a rented boat that are solely the fault of the operators, there is a question as to whether the marina could incur liability for an accident related to the marina’s sale of alcohol to the boat renter. Further, there are questions of liability for boats that are not in proper working order, such as if steering or speed controls are not functioning properly. Obviously, a marina’s or rental company’s contractual blanket denial of liability for any and all events can’t withstand legal analysis.
If You Believe You Have A Claim Against a Marina or Marine Rental Company in the Chicago area, Contact the Attorneys of Abels & Annes
If you have been involved in an accident on the water that you believe may be the fault of a marina or marine rental company in the Chicago area, you should consult an attorney to determine what rights you may have. The attorneys of Abels & Annes can assist you in protecting your rights when you are involved in such an accident. You can reach us at (312) 924-7575 or through our website.