In and around Louisiana, boating is a common recreational activity to fish, explore, or just enjoy some time on the water. When that enjoyment turns into the devastation of an injury, you need an experienced boat accident lawyer in New Orleans by your side. 

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, Louisiana saw 103 boating accidents in 2022, 24 of which were fatal. Another 2,641 victims suffered from non-fatal injuries as a result of these accidents.

Maritime accidents can occur for many reasons, from alcohol use to machinery failure and operator inexperience.  Whatever the exact reason, if you have injuries, you might be entitled to compensation. Request a free consultation with a New Orleans injury lawyer who specializes in boating laws and regulations as a first step to getting the justice you deserve. 

Important Louisiana Boating Laws and Regulations

Familiarity with basic laws and regulations related to maritime traffic is essential when operating a boat in the Gulf of Mexico or another waterway within the state. According to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, a few regulations are especially important to keep in mind:

  • Anyone operating a personal watercraft must be at or above age 16. Boat rentals also cannot rent a personal watercraft to anyone under that age threshold.
  • Watercraft vessels passing each other have to keep to their right. Overtaking another vessel must include yielding the right-of-way to the vessel on the right.
  • Non-motor-powered boats always have the right of way except for deep draft vessels that need to remain in other channels or any boat towing another vessel.
  • Boats approaching a landing dock or pier have to yield to any boats departing that same area.
  • Any boat that abruptly changes course is responsible for first making sure there is no risk of a potential collision.
  • When driving a boat in fog or other adverse weather conditions, warning signals are required to alert other vessels of your position on the water
  • Speed and wake zones must follow for all vessels, with no exceptions except for authorized emergency boats. 
  • No boats can block or obstruct a channel that might be for navigation, a landing dock, or any other area that other vessels might need.

Of course, these are just a few of the regulations that boating operators in and around New Orleans have to familiarize themselves with. Just like anyone driving a motorized vehicle has to comply with traffic laws, following these regulations is absolutely essential to staying safe on the water and preventing accidents or injuries to yourself and others.

Causes of New Orleans Boating Accidents

While the causes of boating accidents can range widely, many of them can boil down to a few common themes.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2021 Recreational Boating Statistics Report, alcohol is the leading known contributing factor in boating accidents that end with at least one fatality. In addition, 75% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive any safety instruction related to the vessel they were operating, while only 16% of deaths occurred with operators holding a boating safety education certificate.

The report also found operator inattention, inexperience, improper lookout, machinery failure, violations of navigation rules, and excessive speed to be among the top contributing causes of boating accidents. 

In the exact context of a boating accident, injuries often get worse within very specific situations. For example, the majority of injuries and fatalities occur when the victim was not wearing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD). According to the BoatU.S. Foundation, two-thirds of boating fatalities are due to drowning, and 90% of victims who drowned were not wearing a lifejacket or other kinds of PFD.

Though it might be natural to assume that most collisions with other vessels occur at night when visibility can be challenging, most actually occur in the bright hours of daylight and on calm days. This is where not keeping a lookout, not staying alert, or not following posted speed limits potentially becomes a major issue. 

Finally, accidents may also occur due to unseaworthiness, which describes vessels that are not adequately prepared for use on water. It is the responsibility of the vessel’s owner to ensure that it is always seaworthy from a structural and safety perspective, avoiding potential threats to the operator or anyone else on board. 

The cause of an accident is not always immediately obvious, and neither is whether or not everyone involved in the accident followed the right boating laws and regulations. By working with credible boat accident lawyers, New Orleans residents can get experienced attorneys on their side to get to the bottom of the facts and get you the justice you deserve. 

The Most Common Boating Accident Injuries

Boating accidents tend to cause injuries in one of three ways: the boat capsizes, collides with another vessel, or someone on the boat falls overboard. Therefore, the injuries from these types of accidents tend to be relatively consistent:

  • Drowning, especially when falling into the water after already sustaining an injury or being trapped under a piece of the boat, leaving the victim unable to swim in either case.
  • Brain injuries, either by being thrown against a sharp object or from oxygen deprivation in the water. While not always fatal, brain injuries can impact a victim for the rest of their life.
  • Spinal cord injuries, which can come either due to impact while being thrown against a piece of the board or from compression (like a disk hernia) due to the abrupt movement of the boat.
  • Lacerations and burns, caused by electronics and sharp equipment (like the propeller) that can become suddenly exposed during a fall or capsized boat.
  • Whiplash, usually due to the sudden shock that can unexpectedly move the head and body in an unexpected direction. It’s most common in motor vehicle accidents, but also occurs frequently during boating accidents.

Of course, other injuries may occur as well. Broken bones and soft tissue injuries are not uncommon, and electrocution caused by electrical systems coming in contact with standing water is another possibility. All these injuries can have significant, life-long consequences for the victim.

What Types of Boat Accidents Are You Required to Report?

Both federal and Louisiana state regulations require operators of recreational boating vessels to file a written report under certain conditions when involved in an accident. The U.S. Coast Guard requires a report if one of the following occurs:

  • A person dies or requires medical attention beyond first aid.
  • A person disappears from the boat or site of the accident in a way that makes death or injury a realistic possibility.
  • The combined damage to the vessel and any other property involved in the accident totals at least $2,000.
  • The boat is destroyed.

However, the guidelines set by the U.S. Coast Guard also stipulate that state agencies and regulations should take precedence in these situations. That brings us back to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fishery board (LDWF), which regulates recreational boating traffic in the state’s waterways. 

According to Louisiana Revised Statute 34:851.10, any recreational boat operator involved in a collision or other type of accident has to immediately report that accident if it resulted in the injury or death of someone involved or if the resulting property damage exceeds $500. The involved parties should file a report with the nearest law enforcement agency or state police, which then notifies the LDWF. 

Within five days of the incident, drivers of any vessel involved in the accident need to report an incident report to the LDWF that describes the collision in detail. The department will then notify the United States Coast Guard.

What You Should Do After a Boating Accident

The moment you are involved in a boat accident, the first step should always be to check on and secure the medical well-being of everyone involved. For anyone who has gone overboard, someone should immediately  bring that person onboard safely, while anyone with injuries will need first aid.

Consider doing a headcount to make sure that everyone on the boat is accounted for. Being familiar with the boat’s emergency equipment, including the lifejackets, first aid kit, and fire extinguishers can also help make these steps fast and efficient.

Beyond that, contacting local law enforcement will be crucial. It ensures that help can arrive quickly and ensure the well-being of everyone involved as well as potentially securing any damaged or dangerous equipment. 

When everyone is safe, it’s time to contact a New Orleans boat accident lawyer. This ensures that you can have a partner on your side who can help with the incident report, work with the insurance on your behalf, and work with any third parties involved (including other people involved in the accident and law enforcement officers) on your behalf.

10 Steps to Take After a Boating Accident in Louisiana

The immediate aftermath of a boat accident can be immensely stressful for everyone involved. That’s why knowing exactly what you need to do ahead of time can go a long way toward taking the routine steps required to keep everyone safe and avoid potential issues with insurance companies or law enforcement.

  1. Stop your vessel immediately, as soon as you know that an accident of any sort has occurred.
  2. Do a headcount of every passenger to make sure that everyone is accounted for.
  3. Check the water for any passengers who may have gone overboard.
  4. Administer first aid to anyone who needs immediate medical attention.
  5. Call emergency services at 911 or via radio on channel 16 for help.
  6. Gather information from any other vessel operators involved in the accident, including contact and insurance information as well as the boat’s make, model, and registration number.
  7. If needed, take pictures of any damage on any of the boats or property involved in the accident.
  8. As soon as possible, write down everything you know about the accident: when and where it occurred, and what the damage was. 
  9. When safely back on land, contact a New Orleans boat accident lawyer. They will advise you on the next steps needed with your insurance and any legal claims.
  10. With your lawyer’s help, file a formal incident report with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

If any eyewitnesses saw what happened, it might also be helpful to get their contact information and ask if they took any photos or videos of the accident. 

Who Is Liable for a Boating Accident? 

Generally speaking, liability for injuries and damage caused in a boat accident lies with the party who violated one or more of the above Louisiana boating regulations. That said, proving that another party was responsible can be complex and might be difficult to accomplish without a legal partner on your side.

To win a legal claim, the victim of a boating accident has to prove the other party acted negligently in the events leading up to the accident. That includes four components:

  • You have to clearly identify the person who was responsible for causing the accident.
  • You have to prove that this person owed you or the victim on whose behalf you fight, a duty of care in the situation that led to the accident. For example, a chartered boat operator owes a duty of care for all passengers on the boat, while a boat rental company owes a duty of care in making sure that the boats rented out are seaworthy.
  • You have to prove that the party in question breached their duty of care to the victim, like not following boating regulations or operating a boat under the influence of alcohol.
  • You have to provide a full list of damages that you intend to claim and prove that the breached duty of care led directly to these damages. 

Keep in mind that the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, not the defendant. The boat operator you hold responsible for the accident can claim they did everything necessary to operate the boat in safe conditions, and it will be on you to prove otherwise. 

That’s what makes working with experienced boat accident lawyers in New Orleans such an important step. Even with all the documentation, you have gathered, proving another party to be at fault is not easy. Reliable legal representation can help you with a fighting chance to prove exactly that.

When to Work With a New Orleans Boat Accident Lawyer 

Boating accidents are unique in many ways, with the nuances of the laws and regulations involved not always obvious to the parties involved. That process gets complicated even further by the sometimes significant fallout from the incident, like injuries to yourself and others and the resulting physical and mental weight.

A legal professional on your side can alleviate some of that weight by helping you navigate the details of submitting and following through with a claim. They can also manage any insurance claim on your behalf, work with law enforcement, and take care of the details while you recover from any potential injuries and trauma.

When working with a boat accident lawyer New Orleans residents can rest assured that any of these complications are taken care of on their behalf. Instead of having to sweat the details of local statutes and regulations, they can focus fully on their recovery.

Because of the complexities involved in this specific legal field, chances are that not every personal injury lawyer can be of equal help in these types of situations. Instead, a more specialized boat accident lawyer in New Orleans will be much more familiar with the local guidelines, law enforcement practices, and more to help you get the justice you deserve along with the maximum possible compensation.

How Can Dudley DeBosier Help With My New Orleans Boating Accident Case?

The stress and consequences of a boating accident can be significant. Nobody wants to or should complicate that with the legal ramifications of the accident. That’s why at Dudley DeBosier, we will do everything we can to fight on your behalf while stepping in to move your legal claim along.

Our legal team knows what you’re going through, and we’re ready to go the extra mile to help you get the compensation you deserve. We put people first, valuing names more than numbers and taking the time to know each client and their stories intimately to focus on their specific needs. We stand up to other parties, including insurance companies, on our clients’ behalf.

We’re ready to help you with that same approach. We love to help people protect their future, and we’re ready to do the same for you. With us, you get a free case assessment, along with a guarantee to only pay us if we win your case. 

Ready to learn more, or do you have any questions about a recent boating accident and need help? Contact Dudley DeBosier in New Orleans and get your free case assessment today.

Local Resources for Boating in New Orleans

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This content has been reviewed by Chad Lederman at the New Orleans Dudley DeBosier office.