Each summer, tens of thousands of people launch boats off Virginia’s coasts or into its many lakes and rivers. While most people navigate these waterways responsibly, some make the decision to consume alcohol while operating watercraft.
Drinking while operating a boat is both a federal and state offense. If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a boating accident and you suspect alcohol may have been involved, you may be able to seek compensation through a Virginia civil court.
The Dangers of Boating While Drunk
Boating under the influence can be more dangerous than driving drunk. The wind, sun, vibration, and motion of the boat can “intensify the effects of alcohol and some medications.” This phenomenon is sometimes called “boater’s hypnosis.” Also, a boater can become tired due to the rocking motion of the boat, which slows brain wave activity. It’s also common for a boater who spends the day in the hot sun to become dehydrated—increasing fatigue and contributing to a feeling of intoxication.
Additionally, if someone is drunk or impaired on a boat, they may be more susceptible to slipping and/or falling overboard, leading to drowning. If they are steering or otherwise controlling the watercraft’s movement, there is a greater chance that a miscalculation in speed or direction could result in injury or damage to property.
Boating Under the Influence in Virginia
Almost everyone knows that it is illegal to drink and drive. However, few people know that operating a boat under the influence is against the law, too. In Virginia, a boat is defined as almost any sort of manned watercraft, from yachts and jet-skis to kayaks and canoes.
Law enforcement officers are allowed to stop any boater they believe to be under the influence of alcohol. If a person is operating a watercraft or motorboat while drunk or impaired, they can be convicted of boating under the influence (BUI) if:
- The boater has a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or more
- The boater is under 21 years of age and has a BAC above .02 percent
- The boater has a detectable amount of cocaine in their bloodstream
- The boater has a detectable amount of other narcotics—including PCP and methamphetamine—in their bloodstream
- The boater is sufficiently impaired that no reasonable person would believe they can safely operate a watercraft
The Penalties for Boating Drunk
Virginia considers the operation of a watercraft while intoxicated a Class 1 Misdemeanor. Offenders may receive fines of up to $2,500 and up to 1 year in jail.
If a boater is convicted of boating while intoxicated, they may:
- Have their driver’s license suspended
- Face significantly higher car insurance premiums
- Be required to take alcohol safety and treatment courses
- Have a permanent criminal record
People who seriously injure another person while boating drunk may be convicted of a Class 6 felony and face a $2,500 fine and up to five years in prison.
If someone dies after a boating accident in which alcohol was involved, the watercraft operator or other negligent party can be charged with aggravated manslaughter, which can carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
Boaters who have prior convictions may face steeper penalties for repeat offenses.
What to Do If You’ve Been Injured by a Drunk Boater
Often, people who have been involved in a boating accident are not sure what to do next. They may be in shock or extreme pain with a potentially life-threatening injury.
Anyone who has been injured in a boating accident should always seek immediate medical treatment. A physician can help treat obvious wounds as well as detect injuries that might go unnoticed.
If a victim is physically capable of taking pictures of the crash, collecting potential witness contact information, and documenting their injuries, they should try to do so. If a victim cannot collect evidence at the scene, they should consider contacting an experienced Virginia boat accident attorney for help. If notified promptly, an attorney may be able to rapidly respond to the crash site and begin collecting evidence before it is moved or disappears.
People who have been injured in a crash should not talk about the accident afterward or communicate with any insurance company other than their own. Victims should also avoid signing paperwork or giving a recorded statement without having an attorney present.
Virginia’s Expectations for Boat Accident Reports
Virginia has strict expectations for the reporting of boating accidents resulting in injury or death. The State Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, for instance, must be sent a written report whenever an accident:
- Results in more than $2,000 in damage to a vessel
- Results in an injury that requires medical attention beyond basic first aid
- Results in death
- Results in the disappearance of anyone aboard the watercraft
Any boating accident or crash which results in death, disfigurement, or disappearance must be reported to law enforcement within 48 hours.
How an Experienced Boat Accident Attorney Can Help
Because boating accident cases can be complex, it’s important to contact a boating accident attorney right away. They can help ensure that cases and filings comply with Virginia’s reporting deadlines and statute of limitations.
Generally, a judge will only award a crash victim compensation if they can prove the other party’s negligence significantly contributed to or caused the accident. An attorney can help show:
- That the at-fault party had a duty of care or a legal obligation to ensure they did not harm the injured person
- That the at-fault party breached their duty of care and failed to take reasonable measures to prevent causing harm
- That the injured person suffered damages resulting from the accident, including but not limited to medical expenses, lost income, property damage, or emotional pain and suffering
- That there was a causal link between the at-fault party’s breach of duty of care and the injured party’s damages
In some instances, a boating accident attorney may be able to negotiate a favorable settlement with the at-fault party’s insurance company, saving victims the time, money, and hassle of having to take a case to court.
If the victim of a boating accident wishes to pursue a civil case against the intoxicated operator of a watercraft, they should always consider hiring a boating accident attorney. This is true even if the at-fault party is facing criminal charges. If they are convicted and the court orders they pay restitution, there is no guarantee that the amount of restitution will be sufficient to cover the injured person’s medical bills and other expenses.
A personal injury attorney can argue for greater damages, negotiate a higher settlement, and bring cases against multiple at-fault parties, depending on the circumstances of the accident.
A judge or jury may order the at-fault party to make the injured person whole by paying damages. In Virginia, there are two different types of damages: economic damages, which have a specific monetary value, and non-economic damages, which affect a victim physically and emotionally.
Examples of economic damages include:
- Medical expenses, and potential future medical expenses
- Transportation to receive medical help
- Physical rehabilitation
- Property damage
Examples of non-economic damages include:
- Prolonged pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
The amount of damages a boat accident victim may be able to recover depends on the circumstances of the crash, the injuries or other losses suffered, and what evidence they are able to bring to court.
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If you were injured or a loved one was killed by an intoxicated boat operator in Virginia, send us a message online, or call us today.