The U.S. Coast Guard reported 5,265 recreational boating accidents in the U.S. in 2020. As a result of these accidents, 3,191 people were injured, approximately $62.5 million in property damage was caused, and 767 people died.
With lots of opportunities for inland and offshore boating, Delaware is a popular destination for boating enthusiasts and recreational water activities. In summer, thousands of people make use of the Delaware waterways, and unfortunately, accidents happen. When they happen, you should know what steps to take in the immediate aftermath of the accident, and in the ensuing days and weeks. In this article, our experienced boating accident attorneys at Morris James, help to prepare you for a day that hopefully will never happen.
If you have more questions about boating or jet ski accidents in Delaware, the boating accident attorneys at Morris James are available to help. Contact us online, at one of our local Delaware offices or by calling 302.655.2599.
Delaware law mandates that a boat operator involved in a boating accident must stop at the scene of the accident and offer assistance to anyone who is injured or in danger, unless doing so would seriously endanger the boat operator's own vessel or passengers. Do not flee the scene of the accident.
Get to safety
When you are in any accident, the first priority is to get yourself and others to a place of safety, and tend to any injuries. In a boating accident, getting to safety may mean turning off your engine, signaling for help, helping someone out of the water, or getting yourself safely to shore, depending on the circumstances. There are many different types of vessels and different bodies of water, each of which can create dangerous scenarios. For example, a fast-flowing river could carry someone downriver to rapids or hazards, or a lake that is congested with inexperienced boaters carries a high-risk of secondary collisions or injuries. You should take reasonable actions in the moment to minimize the risk of more injuries.
Call for help
In Delaware, you can call 1-800-523-3336 or 302-739-4580 in a boating emergency to contact the Delaware Natural Resources Police 24-hour emergency line. You can also use your VHP radio, channel 16.
Even if you do not need emergency medical services, you should see a healthcare provider as soon as possible after a boating accident if you have any injuries as a result of the accident. Seemingly minor injuries can develop into more serious or chronic problems, especially if left untreated, and can lead to pain, missed work, and more medical expenses. It is also important to see a healthcare provider to obtain a medical report of your injuries, which will be important evidence in an insurance claim or dispute.
Proof of how an accident happened, who was involved, and the extent of any injuries or damage, will be important when the dust settles after your boating or jet ski accident. It can be hard to remember to do this in the midst of an accident but it is an important step to take after everyone is safe and tended to, because evidence can be lost and memories can be unreliable, especially of a traumatic experience like a boating accident. Evidence of accidents that happen on the water can also be more difficult to obtain when time has passed because, unlike in a road accident, the surface of the water does not preserve evidence, and some evidence can sink, or be washed, or washed away, by the water.
Evidence that you should gather includes:
- Vessel registration numbers
- Insurance information of boat operators
- Name and contact details of boat operators, passengers, and witnesses
- Photos and/or video of the scene, boats, damage, and (with permission) injuries
- Medical report
- Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police accident report
Smartphones have simplified the immediate collection of evidence in a boating accident. Use the camera to photograph insurance cards and boat details. In addition, take some video. Video captures conditions and action in a way that photos cannot. A short video recording of the scene of the accident can capture a lot of information that may later be relevant to an accident investigation or insurance claim.
Report the accident
Many boating accidents must, by law, be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard and the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police by the owners or operators of the boats involved in the accident. Even if you are not legally required to report your boating accident, it may be required by your insurance policy, and the accident report will be important to any claim for insurance or compensation. The accident report will include useful details about the people involved, set out facts about the accident, and in some cases, will assign blame.
Delaware law requires that a boating accident is reported immediately if a person:
- disappears, or
- is injured and requires medical attention beyond first aid.
Delaware requires that accidents are reported in writing to the Delaware Fish and Wildlife Natural Resources Police on a Recreational Boating Accident Self Report Form:
- immediately if a person disappears or is injured requiring medical attention beyond first aid;
- within 24 hours if a person dies; or
- within five days if damage to the vessel and other property exceeds $500.
Federal law requires that a boating accident is reported to the U.S. Coast Guard and the state reporting authority within 48 hours if a person:
- dies within 24 hours;
- is injured requiring medical treatment beyond first aid; or
- disappears from the vessel under circumstances that indicate death or injury.
And must be reported within 10 days of the accident or death if any of the above happen or there is damage to vessels and other property totaling $2,000 or more, or the boat is destroyed.
Notify your insurance company
If you are the owner or operator of a vessel that is involved in a boating accident, you should notify your insurance company of the accident. This may be required under the terms of your policy so that your insurance is not invalidated, and will be necessary in order to submit an insurance claim for damage caused by the accident.
You should not, however, enter into a discussion with your insurer, or any other insurance company, about the accident before getting legal advice. And you should NEVER admit any blame in the accident, or accept a settlement offer from an insurance company without first consulting a boating accident attorney. An insurance company will generally try to avoid a large payout, and will make a lowball offer that they hope will be accepted, especially if the victim is unrepresented. Once you agree to a settlement with your insurance company, or the insurer of someone else involved in the accident, you will likely be prohibited from making another claim for compensation. You must ensure that any compensation is sufficient for your injuries, loss, and damage from the boating accident, including future expenses such as medical expenses and lost wages.
Call a boating accident attorney
A boating accident attorney has experience dealing with all the difficult but crucial steps after a boating accident. Boating accidents can be particularly complex as they often involve state and federal agencies, out-of-state people and businesses, multiple layers of boat owners and operators, and catastrophic injury, A boating accident attorney can advise you on what you can and should do, and they can deal with the insurance companies, authorities, and other people involved in the accident on your behalf. After a boating accident, you should get the advice of an attorney experienced in handling boating accidents.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.