For experienced boaters and yacht captains, docking is second nature. But, for those who are less confident in their abilities, docking and undocking can be the most stressful parts of a day on the water. Accidents at public boat docks and marinas caused by inexperience are fairly common; and while some of these accidents are harmless, others result in substantial property damage and personal injuries.

Of course, experienced boaters and yacht captains can make mistakes, too. In some cases, issues with the dock itself can also be to blame for damage, injuries and collisions between vessels. As a result, determining liability can be challenging, and those who need to assert their legal rights will need to consult with a dock accident attorney promptly.

Determining Liability for a Boat Accident at a Public Dock or Marina

When you hire a dock accident attorney to represent you, your attorney will thoroughly investigate the accident to determine who (or what company) is responsible. Based on the investigation’s findings, your attorney will then be able to pursue a claim for damages on your behalf. Most boat owners have liability insurance (since most lenders require it), and marinas and other dock owners typically have liability insurance policies as well. But, even though asserting your legal rights might not involve going to court, you will still need clear evidence of fault and damages to recover the financial compensation you deserve.

If you were injured or your boat or yacht was severely damaged in a dock accident, who (or what company) is liable for your losses? In most cases, the possibilities include:

1. A Vessel Owner

Vessel owners will be liable for dock accidents in many cases. Powerboat, sailboat and yacht owners can be held liable for dock accidents on various grounds—with some of the most common grounds for filing a claim including:

  • Negligent Boat Operation – Negligently operating a boat in the close quarters of a dock or marina can easily lead to significant injuries and property damage. Excessive speed is a very common factor, and failure to properly judge the effects of the wind and current are common factors in docking and undocking accidents as well. Various other forms of negligence can also lead to accidents at docks and marinas—from attempting to dock while drunk or distracted to putting a boat in reverse instead of forward gear.
  • Negligent Entrustment – Boat owners can also be held liable for negligently entrusting their vessels to unqualified operators. When boat owners let their friends and family use their vessels, they have an obligation to ensure that their friends and family are capable of operating their vessels safely. If they aren’t capable, and if they cause a dock accident as a result, the boat owner (and the owner’s insurer) could be fully liable.
  • Failure to Properly Secure the Vessel – Dock accidents also frequently result from failure to properly secure vessels after docking. Improperly tying cleat hitches, failing to make proper use of spring lines and various other issues can result in docked vessels shifting with the current and wind. If there are other boats in the vicinity, this shifting can result in an expensive and potentially injurious collision.

2. A Vessel Operator

As we mentioned, vessel owners can often be held liable for others’ mistakes based on the law of negligent entrustment. But, regardless of whether the law of negligent entrustment applies, vessel operators can also be held financially responsible for their own mistakes. This includes friends and family members who borrow boats, as well as members of boat clubs and individuals who rent boats on vacation and take bareboat charters. While boat clubs and rental companies generally don’t require operators to have insurance (meaning that operators will often be directly liable for the costs of their mistakes), most bareboat charters are insured by the operator from the time they leave the dock.

3. The Dock or Marina Owner

Along with vessel owners and operators, dock and marina owners can also be liable for dock accidents in some cases. If a dock or marina is poorly maintained, for example, maintenance issues that lead to boat-related accidents, slips and falls, and other accidents can justify claims for liability. Boat owners, renters, boat club members, dock workers and others can all potentially have claims for maintenance-related issues. Inadequate security, understaffing, hiring inexperienced dockhands and other similar types of failures can give rise to dock and marina owner liability as well.

4. The Dock or Marina Operator or Management Company

In many cases, the entity that owns a dock or marina is not the same entity that is responsible for its maintenance and management. If a dock or marina is operated by an entity other than its owner, then this third-party management company could be liable in the event of a dock accident. Similarly, if a boat club, boat rental company, sailing school or other third party operates out of a dock or marina, then this company could be liable in the event that one of its employees or customers causes boat damage or injuries.

5. A Slip Owner or Renter

Individual boat slip owners and renters can also be held liable for dock accidents in appropriate cases. Slip owners and renters have a duty to operate and secure their vessels safely, and they must also take steps to ensure that their slips are safe for dock workers and guests. If a slip owner’s or renter’s negligence leads to an accident, then the owner or renter can—and should—be held financially responsible.

Discuss Your Claim with an Experienced Dock Accident Attorney

If you need to know more about your legal rights after a dock accident resulting in personal injuries or significant property damage to a vessel, we encourage you to contact us for more information. To arrange a free and confidential consultation with an experienced dock accident attorney at Brais Law Firm, please call 800-499-0551 or request an appointment online today.

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