Now that the summer is in full swing, many of us are spending more time out on the water enjoying the sun. While boating with friends can be a great way to spend a day, it can also be dangerous if you aren’t careful. Watercraft accidents can be just as dangerous as car accidents and therefore boat safety should not be overlooked. However, if you are injured in a boating accident due to someone else’s negligence you should be aware of your legal right to file a personal injury lawsuit in order to receive compensation for your medical bills, loss of wages, and other expenses incurred.
Unfortunately, many boating accidents occur because the boat’s driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. According to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, alcohol played a role in at least seven of the 24 fatal boating accidents that occurred last year. While the fact is often overlooked, it is important to keep in mind that boating while drunk is just as dangerous, and just as illegal, as drunk driving. In fact, our neighboring state of North Carolina recently enacted increased penalties for boating while intoxicated (referred to as boating under the influence in South Carolina) in order to deter this dangerous practice.
North Carolina’s New Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) Law
Under North Carolina’s current boating while intoxicated law, a drunk boater who seriously injures or kills another in a boating accident can only be convicted of a misdemeanor offense. However, this is about to change according to a recent article in the Herald which reports that North Carolina’s governor signed a new law that increases the penalties for impaired boating. This law increases the penalty for boating while intoxicated convictions that result in death or serious injury by elevating this crime from a misdemeanor to a felony offense. Lawmakers hope that “Sheyenne’s Law,” as the new law is called in honor of a young girl who was killed by a drunk boater last year, will send a strong message to boaters that drunk boating is not permissible and will be harshly punished.
The Herald reports that Sheyenne’s Law will go into effect on December 1st and carries the following increased penalties:
- A Boating While Intoxicated Conviction Causing ‘Great Bodily Harm’: Punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and 15 years in prison.
- A Boating While Intoxicated Conviction Resulting In Death: Punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 and up to 25 years in prison.
South Carolina’s Boating Under The Influence (BUI) Law
North Carolina’s new BWI law brings our neighboring state’s laws more in line with the drunk boating laws that we have here in South Carolina. In South Carolina the crime of boating under the influence (BUI), contained in S.C. Code § 50-21-112, already makes it a felony offense if you cause serious injury or death while boating drunk. Our state’s boating under the influence law makes it a illegal to operate a motorboat or a sailboat in South Carolina while under the influence of alcohol, any drug or substance which causes impairment, or a combination of both, to the extent that your facilities are materially and appreciably impaired. Additionally, South Carolina’s boating under the influence law elevates a BUI misdemeanor to a felony offense if the impaired boater caused great bodily harm or death. A felony boating under the influence conviction in South Carolina carries the same penalties as North Carolina’s new boating while intoxicated law that is outlined above.
It is also important to note that while fines and prison sentences are often the most onerous penalties imposed for drunk boating, courts in both North Carolina and South Carolina also have the ability to order additional punishments. These punishments vary, depending on the seriousness of the offense and whether the defendant is a repeat offender, but often include required community service hours, bans on boating privileges, and mandatory attendance at drug and boat safety courses.
How Does a Drunk Boat Driver Impact My Personal Injury Claim?
In order to recover compensation from a negligent boat driver for your personal injuries, you will need to prove that the at-fault defendant owed you a duty of care, breached that duty of care via actions that caused your injuries, and that you did in fact suffer some sort of damage. These required elements are generally referred to as: duty, breach, causation, and damages.
If the at-fault boater was drunk when they caused your boating accident, that fact will definitely benefit your case as it helps to show that the defendant was negligently operating their boat at the time of the accident. However, simply proving that the defendant was boating drunk is not enough. You will still need to show that the drunk driver owed you a duty of care, that operating the boat while drunk breached that duty, that the boater’s negligence caused your injuries, and that you were damaged by the accident. As personal injury claims are heard in a civil court, the injured party must prove all four of these elements of their case ‘by a preponderance of the evidence.’ In other words, you must show that what you are claiming is more likely than not to be true, and if you can show that the defendant was boating while drunk when they caused the accident this will help your case a great deal. Even so, arguing a personal injury claim that arose out of a boating accident can be very complicated and it is highly recommended that you employ the services of a competent personal injury lawyer to assist you.
What Can We Do To Help?
If you have been injured in a boating accident in South Carolina and are interested in filing a personal injury claim, contact the Elrod Pope Law Firm today for a free consultation. Our experienced Rock Hill personal injury legal team has offices in both Rock Hill and Lake Wylie for your convenience and would be happy to discuss your legal options with you.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.