Virginia Boating and Maritime Lawyers Help Injured Sailors

Boating Accidents and Admiralty Law

Every year boating and maritime accidents claim lives and injure sailors off the coast of Virginia. The Tidewater area is surrounded by bodies of water. The City of Norfolk is bordered by the Elizabeth River to the south and west, and the Chesapeake Bay to the north. Virginia Beach, which has direct access to the Atlantic ocean and the Chesapeake Bay,  is home to 40,000 recreational vessels, not including visiting boats.

Every day many big commercial ships arrive at facilities like Norfolk International Terminals, Newport News Marine Terminal, Portsmouth Marine Terminal and APM Terminals, making Hampton Roads one of the busiest container ports in the country.

Norfolk is home to Naval Station Norfolk, the largest military naval base in the world.  Norfolk, Hampton and Virginia Beach are the homes of many recreational boaters. If you or a loved one has been injured while you are out on a boat or another vessel, you may have grounds to sue the pilot of the boat, or another boat operator. When a seaman is injured on a vessel, the case falls under admiralty and maritime Law which is complex and different from the laws governing personal injury on land.

Recreational Boating Accidents

Every year lives are lost in the waters off Hampton Roads and northeastern North Carolina in boating accidents. There are hundreds of deaths a year in the United States.

In 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard recorded 4,515 accidents that involved 651 deaths, 3000 injuries and about $38 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.

Accidents at Marinas

A marina fire in Urbanna, Virginia in 2016 claimed two lives and destroyed more than 50 vessels, highlighting the dangers at marinas where combustible materials are often stored.

There are numerous marinas in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton and Newport News as well as in northeastern North Carolina.  About 75 privately owned marinas dot our  region from Gloucester, VA. to Hatteras Island, N.C.

Boaters can be particularly vulnerable in situations such as refueling. A marina may be liable under the law of premises liability if unsafe conditions led to a boating accident with injuries or fatalities. The law of product liability may also be relevant. Recently a company that provided fuel nozzles at a North Carolina marina was sued over the death of a marina worker in an explosion after equipment was found to be non compliant with fire codes.

Drunken Boating

Often when boating accidents occur, boaters have been drinking in the hot sun for many hours.

The same rules apply to boaters as to motorists for drunken operation. According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the law for operating a motorboat is almost identical to that of driving a motor vehicle. Boaters with a BAC of 0.08 or more are not allowed to operate a watercraft. The law also applies to other narcotic or illegal drugs.

If you are operating a boat with a BAC of 0.10 or above, you are more than 10 times as likely to be killed in an accident, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Other common causes of boat accidents include:

  • Lack of attention
  • Excess speed
  • A failure to follow navigational rules
  • Improper lookout

Accidents Involving Jet Skis

Jet skis or personal water craft are one of the most dangerous types of vessel used on the waterways of Hampton Roads. The speed of jet skis, the lack of experience of operators and lack of protection for riders, make them an accident waiting to happen. Common injuries from jet ski accidents include:

  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Broken bones
  • Spinal injuries
  • Amputations
  • Fatal injuries

Maritime and Admiralty Law

Mariners who are hurt at sea fall under a complex set of maritime and admiralty laws that are made up of statutes and past case decisions related to disputes on navigable waters. The definition of “navigable waters” is all bodies of water that can be used for interstate or foreign commerce.

When maritime law is applicable, the cases are heard in federal court under Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Although injured seafarers may elect to file suit in state courts in Virginia, North Carolina or another state, federal law will still apply and the defendant has the option to move the case to federal court.

Some relevant terms applicable to maritime or admiralty law include:

  1. Jones Act Negligence

    Irrespective of whether you were working on an oil rig, a tug boat or a ferry, you could bring an action under the Jones Act if you were injured due to the fault of another party. The Jones Act was introduced in 1915 and allows seafarers to bring a personal injury claim against a negligent employer, crew member, officer, agent or another party.

  2. Maintenance and Cure

    Seamen or commercial fishermen have a right to gain maintenance and cure from their employer if they are injured. Unlike under the Jones Act, the employer does not have to be negligent. Maintenance and cure is more like workers’ compensation.

  3. Unseaworthy Vessels

    Maritime law puts the onus on the owner of a vessel to maintain it in a seaworthy condition.  If the machinery or any other part of the vessel is defective, an injured crew member can make a claim for damages under general maritime law.

Third Party Claims by Shipyard Workers, Stevedores or Longshoremen

Injured workers in the maritime industry may make an additional claim under maritime law, even if they make a workers’ compensation claim, under certain circumstances.

If you suffered an accident on a vessel, even if it was docked, and it was caused by the negligence of the vessel’s crew or a hazardous condition on the ship, you may also have grounds to file a third-party maritime claim for the damages you suffered.

Call Our Experienced Virginia Boating and Maritime Accident Injury Lawyers

If you have been injured due to the actions of a boat owner or pilot, the negligent or reckless handling of another vessel, at an unsafe marina, or as a seafarer or dockyard worker, our experienced Virginia and North Carolina boating accident attorneys can help you. Call us at (757) 455-0077 or contact us online for a free consultation.