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If you are planning to head out on Louisiana’s waters, it’s important to have an appropriately sized life jacket for every person onboard. The law states that all passengers under the age of 17 must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved lifejacket on boats less than 26 feet long whenever the boat is in motion. All passengers, regardless of age, must wear a lifejacket on boats less than 16 feet long.

Life jackets are not only required by state law, but also protect you from serious injuries and death. According to the U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Report for 2021, 83% of victims who drowned that year were not wearing a life jacket.

If you suffered injuries in a boat accident but were not wearing your life jacket at the time, it could affect your rights to compensation. A dedicated boat accident attorney from Dudley DeBosier can help you determine your path forward.

How Does a Life Jacket Affect Your Rights to Compensation?

Boat passengers are expected to wear life jackets under Louisiana law. They must also act with reasonable care to ensure the safety of others and the boat operator while the vessel is underway.

Louisiana follows the concept of pure comparative negligence, in which compensation is reduced based on your percentage of fault. So when you fail to wear a life jacket and cause injury to yourself—and if your injuries are worse than they could have been because you weren’t wearing a life jacket—you may be liable for any damages caused by your reckless actions.

For instance, if you fell overboard without a life jacket on after drinking alcohol and sustained injuries, then you may be liable for your own injuries. The lack of a life jacket can also hinder rescue efforts and make it more challenging for the emergency rescuers and the boat operator or owner to reach you in time.

Boat Operators and Owners Can Be Held Liable for the Lack of Life Jackets

Passengers are required to wear life jackets, but boat operators and owners are required to ensure there is appropriate safety equipment on board for all passengers. A boat owner or operator can be held liable for failure to carry life jackets on board. Additionally, the boat operator can be considered negligent if they did not enforce the use of life jackets and passengers then suffer injuries.

The boat operator’s responsibility is to ensure the water is clear of obstacles (including other vessels and swimmers), their passengers have no medical issues, and to comply with Louisiana navigation rules. They must operate the boat at a safe speed and be sober at all times. Injuries may also result from the negligence of a boat operator when the boat is not operated safely.

Boat owners must also ensure that all equipment onboard their boats, including life jackets, are adequately maintained and kept in proper working order. The U.S. Coast Guard recommends an annual inspection of lifejackets for buoyancy, fit, and durability.

A life jacket must be discarded whenever it becomes damaged, waterlogged, or faded.

It is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when maintaining inflatable lifejackets. If the boat owner did not properly maintain their life jackets before an accident and someone is injured because the life jacket didn’t work as intended, then a percentage of liability may lie with the boat owner.

How Can a Boat Accident Lawyer Help You If You Did Not Have a Life Jacket On?

A lawyer knowledgeable in Louisiana state boating laws can help determine liability when looking into the accident. The critical documentation for any investigation includes:

  • The accident report: A lawyer can review the accident report to construct a case against the liable parties.
  • Eyewitness testimonies: These testimonies might be valuable in reconstructing the accident to discuss who is liable. 
  • Medical records: These should include detailed diagnoses of any injuries sustained in the accident and the prescribed treatment.

Your lawyer can use this evidence to develop a legal strategy to reduce your percentage of liability in the accident, and determine how much compensation you should receive for medical expenses.

Call Our Louisiana Boat Accident Lawyers

Wearing a life jacket and having the proper number of life jackets on board can improve boat safety and limit liability in the event of an accident. If you sustained injuries on or near a boat, contact the Louisiana boating accident attorneys at Dudley DeBosier. An experienced personal injury attorney from our firm can assist you in fighting to recover the compensation you deserve after a boat accident.

Contact us today for a free case evaluation when you need legal representation.

Disclaimer: This content has been reviewed by Chad Lederman, Director of Legal Operations at our New Orleans office.

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