The sparkling waters of the Rideau Canal, Ottawa River or St. Lawrence River are often irresistible, especially if you own a boat and are an avid boater. However, a fantastic fun-filled holiday on the water can quickly lose its charm if you have a boating accident that results in injuries to you, your passengers or others in the water. According to the Red Cross Society of Canada, about 200 fatalities are recorded each year on Canada’s waters. This shows how dangerous boating accidents can be.
Under the Marine Liability Act (MLA), any individual who was injured in an accident on a pleasure craft can file for damages against the owner or operator of the vessel. If you sustained injuries caused at least in part by the other party, you may be able to obtain financial compensation from that party’s insurance through a personal injury lawsuit (i.e., a tort claim). Similarly, if a third party sustained injuries on your vessel that were caused by your negligence or fault, you could be exposed to substantial legal liability.
The MLA presumes that fault or neglect is that of the carrier (i.e., boat owner) unless there is evidence to the contrary. The no-fault insurance laws applicable to motor vehicle accidents in Ontario do not apply to boating accidents, even though pleasure crafts are subject to aspects of both motor vehicle law and marine law.
A carrier could be found liable if he or she knew or should have known of a danger or a risk of danger and did not address the concern. For example, the carrier would be liable if the accident was caused because the boat was unseaworthy or ill-equipped or the owner knew that the operator was unskilled to operate the vessel or was impaired by alcohol or drugs.
If a carrier can prove that the personal injury or death of a passenger was caused or contributed to by the fault or neglect of the passenger, the court could exonerate the carrier wholly or partly from his liability in accordance with the provisions of the law of that court. In other words, if the other party was found to contribute negligently to the accident, then the carrier could potentially be absolved of his or her liability for the accident.
Liability is deemed to be proportionate to the degree to which each party is respectively negligent or otherwise at fault, according to the MLA. If it is not possible to determine different degrees of fault or neglect, then liability of the parties is equal, as it is written in the MLA.
Liability does not require a collision to occur. An owner or operator can be liable, for example, if his or her passengers suffered serious health issues from carbon monoxide poisoning or burns from a fire outbreak while traveling in the boat.
Where the operator of a pleasure craft is found guilty of a criminal offense (e.g., operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs), further penalty and involvement of criminal lawyer could result. Under the MLA, it is possible to have a ship detained by law enforcement authorities and the court may authorize the ship’s sale. The law assumes that the boat operator is fully aware or ought to be aware of safety regulations and the high risks involved.
Sometimes there is no liability, such as where an accident is no one’s fault. This could be a situation where an accident is caused by hostile weather, such as strong winds and/or heavy rain, especially when the weather changes suddenly. Boats are at higher risk of lightning strikes, which can injure or kill passengers and/or damage the boat. Exposure to cold water or rain for long periods of time can also lead passengers to experience hypothermia. Comprehensive marine insurance can provide some protection in these situations.
In situations where no fault is found and no insurance was in place, there may be no ability for an injured party to recover losses. This could be the situation for a boater who opts to sign the liability waiver instead of purchasing insurance to rent a Sea-DooÂ® or jet-ski and thereafter gets into an accident on his or her own after losing control. Fortunately, marine insurance to protect against high risks and fatal accidents is important to the majority of boat owners. Additional insurance in the event of personal injury or death may also be required of some marina owners in the form of marina insurance.
If you have been involved in a boating accident, you need to report it to the authorities immediately. You are obliged to contact the local Canadian Coast Guard rescue coordination centre or local law enforcement agency (i.e., the police) as soon as you can after the accident and provide clear details about what happened and where. You are also required to inform the Transport Safety Board of Canada about the incident.
Consulting an Ottawa boating accident lawyer is recommended as soon as possible. The best time for us to represent you is just after the accident occurs, as your memory of what happened is fresh and it may be possible for us to investigate the facts. It is best to call us even if you caused the damage or injury but have not been held liable yet. If fines, charges or penalties were levied from the accident, this is also critical information you should share.
At Howard Yegendorf & Associates, we are Ottawa boating accident lawyers who can help you to understand the law, your rights and how to safeguard your rights in the case that may follow. We have consultation offices in Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), including Kingston, Brockville, Cornwall, Pembroke, Hawkesbury, Kanata, Belleville, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, Oakville, Hamilton, Kitchener, Barrie and Oshawa. Contact us toll-free at 1-866-303-5118.