Do you have rights when hurt by a drunk boater on the ocean?

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2021 | Maritime Law

Although a lot of boats perform business operations, many people mentally associate aquatic vessels with recreation. Unfortunately, this focus on fun while out on a boat might mean that people make bad choices while in control of a watercraft.

Recreational boaters might think that there’s no one there to enforce rules against boating while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They might think that if they are out on the ocean and not in a lake that domestic laws don’t apply to them. They might also just assume that it’s safe to be drunk while boating because they aren’t in a heavy traffic area like they would be if they were on a public road.

Drunk recreational boaters can and do put themselves and others at risk. When they cause collisions or injury to others, do their victims have any rights?

The Coast Guard can arrest someone for drunk boating

Even if you are several miles off of shore, the Coast Guard can still investigate an incident and arrest someone who has broken the law. As a general rule, the flag a boat flies or the country in which an owner registers it dictates what laws apply to the vessel and its captain.

The chances are good that the boater who hurt you is also from the United States and has a boat subject to United States laws. Not only is it possible for that drunk boater to get prosecuted, but you may be able to take civil action against them in court for the impact of their drunk boating debacle.

What do criminal proceedings mean for your compensation rights?

Your theoretical right to financial compensation after a drunk boating accident does not depend on the criminal conviction of the other boater involved. Conversely, a criminal conviction does not prevent you from seeking compensation.

There are many cases where there isn’t enough evidence for a criminal conviction but more than enough evidence to meet the standard of evidence for a civil case. Whether someone avoided conviction or didn’t get charged at all, you could still potentially bring a successful claim against them in court.

If someone does get charged and convicted, you still have the right to bring a claim against them. The conviction in criminal court might even help you build a case for compensation because it shows that the state has already determined that the other party committed a wrongful act.