Can you sue after a boat crash in Myrtle Beach, SC?
Boating accidents are common in the Grand Strand area, where millions of tourists arrive each year for family vacations, motorcycle rallies, and Spring Break. Boating, fishing, and recreational watersports are one of the reasons people come here, and, unfortunately, injuries and deaths happen every year as tourists and locals get in the water on speedboats, jet skis, parasails, or just to swim.
In this article, we will take a look at when, who, and how you can sue after a boat crash in Myrtle Beach, including:
- When you can sue after a boat crash,
- Who you can sue after a boat crash,
- Whether insurance will pay for damages after a boat crash, and
- What happens when a drunk boater causes a collision on the water.
When Can You Sue After a Boat Crash?
There are boating crashes every year in the Myrtle Beach area – boat collisions, jet ski collisions, water ski crashes, and swimmers who are hit by boats or jet skis on the Intracoastal Waterway, the Waccamaw River, in the ocean, and in the many rivers and lakes that are found throughout the Grand Strand.
When can you sue?
There are two considerations:
- Who was liable for the boat crash, and
- Whether there is a source of recovery.
Negligence and Boat Crashes – Who is Liable?
The rules of negligence are the same for boat crashes and auto accidents, although the “rules of the road” may be different.
To recover damages after a boat crash, you must show that another person or business was negligent – 1) they owed a duty to keep other boaters and swimmers safe, 2) they breached that duty, and 3) their breach was the proximate cause of your damages.
Liability can be based on negligence (the other boater failed to keep a lookout or committed some other action or inaction that resulted in your injuries), per se negligence (the other boater failed to follow laws that were intended to keep boaters and swimmers safe), gross negligence (they showed a reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others), or intentional conduct (for example, if you were rammed by an angry boater).
Depending on the circumstances, the liable party or parties could be:
- You (you won’t recover damages if you were more than 50% liable and you may be held liable for others’ injuries),
- The driver of another boat who caused the accident,
- The passenger of another boat who caused the accident,
- The driver of the boat you were in when the crash happened,
- The business you purchased or rented your boat from,
- The business the other boater purchased or rented their boat from, or
- Any other business, individual, or municipality that caused the crash.
Does Insurance Pay for Damages After a Boat Crash?
If it is likely another person or business will be held liable for the crash, the next consideration is whether there is a source of recovery…
The at-fault party’s insurance will pay your damages – up to the policy limits and if the at-fault party has insurance. If the at-fault party does not have insurance, you may still be able to sue if they have assets that can be used to pay a judgment against them.
The possible sources of recovery after a boat crash may include:
- The at-fault boater’s insurance policy or policies,
- Insurance carried by or purchased through the company that rents the boats or provides the service,
- Your own insurance policies if they apply,
- The at-fault boater’s personal assets, or
- A business’s assets when they do not have insurance or when they have insufficient insurance coverage.
BUI/ Boating Under the Influence Crashes
You may be entitled to punitive damages after a boating crash if you can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the at-fault party’s conduct was “willful, wanton, or in reckless disregard” of your safety. This could apply to:
- Reckless conduct,
- Gross negligence,
- Intentional conduct, or
- Boat crashes caused by a drunk boater.
SC Code § 15-32-530 caps punitive damages at 3x the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.
The cap on punitive damages is increased to 4x the amount of compensatory damages or $2,000,000, whichever is greater, when:
- The defendant was motivated by unreasonable financial gain and the defendant knew or should have known that someone would be injured, or
- The defendant could have been convicted of a felony based on their conduct that caused the boat crash (even if they are not charged or convicted).
For example, a boater who could have been charged and convicted of reckless homicide by operation of a boat may be subject to the increased cap on punitive damages, even if they were not charged.
No Cap on Punitive Damages for BUI Crashes
There is no cap on punitive damages when:
- The defendant’s conduct was intentional,
- The defendant has been convicted of a felony offense based on the conduct that caused the boating crash, or
- The defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol “to the degree that the defendant’s judgment is substantially impaired.”
If the at-fault boater is charged with and convicted of felony BUI (boating under the influence), for example, or BUI, there is no cap on punitive damages. Even if they are not convicted of BUI, there is no cap on punitive damages if you can prove that their “judgment was substantially impaired” by alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash…
Your Myrtle Beach boating accident attorney at Axelrod and Associates will investigate the crash and help you to get compensation from the negligent party or their insurance company, whether that means a settlement or a jury trial.
Schedule a free consultation with a Myrtle Beach boating accident lawyer on the Axelrod team today. Call us at 843-353-3449 or fill out our contact form to set up a free initial consultation about your case.