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New Boating Laws May Help Injured People Recover for Damages in Boating Accident Cases

On May 15, 2013, new boating laws came in to effect which may help people and families injured and killed in boating accidents recover monetary damages against those responsible for such boating accidents. One of the new boating laws enacted lowers the blood alcohol limits for persons operating boats and other types of personal watercraft from 0.10 to 0.08- the standard in place for driving under the influence when operating vehicles in Georgia. These changes resulted in part from two fatal accidents on Lake Lanier last year. One of the accidents involved Griffin Prince, age 13, and his brother Jake Prince, age 9, who were killed when a drunk driver of a boat collided with the family’s pontoon boat. Approximately a month later, 11 year old Kile Glover, stepson of musician Usher, died after being struck by a personal watercraft on the lake.

It is no secret that a lot of alcohol is consumed by persons operating boats and other types of personal watercraft on Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona and other lakes and waterways around the state. The common belief seems to be that, because there are no stop signs or traffic lights on the lakes, people should be free to operate boats and other personal watercraft, even when intoxicated, with no particular consequences. However, boats, jet skis, wave runners, and other types of personal watercraft are responsible for numerous injuries and deaths around the state each year. As Governor Nathan Deal commented in his State of the State Address regarding the new boating under the influence law, “If you are too drunk to drive an automobile, you are too drunk to drive a boat.”

Although lowering the blood alcohol level for boaters and operators of personal watercraft on Georgia’s lakes and waterways may result in more BUI arrests and convictions, it remains to be seen if lowering the blood alcohol level will actually result in fewer accidents and deaths on Georgia lakes. Many people routinely drink throughout the day while recreationing on Georgia’s waterways. If people are out on the water for hours in the sun and wind while drinking alcohol, the combination can be deadly. It is hopeful that the lowered blood alcohol limit for BUI arrests will result in fewer injuries and deaths, but only time will tell whether that is actually the case.

Nevertheless, the lower blood alcohol BUI limit should give lawyers who represent those injured and killed in boating accidents a stronger weapon to seek recovery for their clients killed or injured in boating accidents. If a person who is over the legal limit injures or kills someone on the water, his/her attorney should be able to seek recovery for their clients based on the doctrine of negligence per se. Negligence per se is a legal doctrine that allows juries to hold people liable for injuries and deaths of others who they injure or kill while violating a law that is enacted for the benefit of the person who is injured or killed. Undoubtedly, BUI laws are enacted for the safety of everyone on our Georgia’s waterways. Accordingly, it should give attorneys representing those injured or killed in boating accidents an effective tool to hold those responsible for the injuries or deaths they cause while operating a boat or personal watercraft while intoxicated.

It should be noted that, under the new law, all people who are operating boats or other personal watercrafts are deemed to give consent to a breath or blood test. If such test is refused, the boater’s boating privileges can be suspended for a period of twelve (12) months. Moreover, safety checks are permitted on boats without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. In other words, law enforcement does not need a reason to stop a boater and request them to consent to a breath or blood test. BUI laws apply to motor boats, sailboats, personal watercrafts, sailboards, and even water skis. If someone injures you or your family while operating any type of personal watercraft, he/she can be held liable for all of the injuries or damages they cause, including your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

A second law that has also recently been enacted requires mandatory boating education classes be completed by any person operating any motorized vessels on Georgia’s waterways who was born after January 1, 1998. In the past, there was no requirement that people complete any type of boat education course in order to operate a boat or personal watercraft on Georgia’s lakes. Now, anyone born after 1997 will have to complete the mandatory boating education course before operating boats or personal watercraft on Georgia’s waters. However, it should be noted that, although this law has already been enacted, the law will not actually be enforced until July 1, 2014. Hence, younger people have the opportunity to complete such boating education course until July 1, 2014 without penalty.

While it remains uncertain whether the new boating education course requirement will result in fewer accidents, injuries and deaths on Georgia’s waterways, it certainly cannot be looked at as a bad or unreasonable requirement. Younger people who have limited boating experience simply do not understand or appreciate the fact that boats do not have brakes and cannot come to a stop in a split second. Many of the boating accidents our firm has handled over the years have involved young, inexperienced boaters. Young persons losing control of jet skis and wave runners cause many injuries and deaths each year. The new mandatory boating education requirements at least forces young persons to have some degree of training which, hopefully, will result in fewer injuries and deaths around the state. Nevertheless, like any laws, some boaters will not comply with the mandates of the law. If a young person who has not complied with the mandatory boating requirements causes an accident, the lawyers who represent those injured or killed by the negligence of young inexperienced boaters will have the benefit of seeking to hold the boater accountable based on negligence per se, as described above.

Boating accidents injure and kill many Georgians on lakes and waterways around the state each year. If you or a family member or friend are injured or killed in a boating accident or accident involving any other type of personal watercraft (such as a jet ski or wave runner), you need an experienced lawyer who understands Georgia’s boating rules and regulations, and laws. In the unfortunate event that you or someone you know is injured or killed in a boat or other personal watercraft accident, contact the W. Winston Briggs Law Firm for a free consultation at (404) 522-1500 today!