Marine Injury


Many people, and most attorneys, are familiar with what to do in the event that that someone is injured in an automobile accident. There is likely to be an immediate police investigation that establishes the facts, identifies witnesses, and may even determine which party is at fault. Insurance adjusters, judges and jurors are familiar with the rules that govern automobile cases, and they have an inherent sense of how fast is speeding, and when a car violates the rules of the road.

The opposite is true, however, for injuries occuring on the water. Most people are not familiar with the Rules of the Road that apply to vessels; they are not familiar with the duty to maintain a watch; they do not know whether a vessel is going too fast for the conditions. There are not generally posted speed limits and other traffic control signals on the water. If jurors are to make the correct decision, they will need to learn many concepts with which they are probably unfamiliar. Attorneys also may find themselves in unfamiliar waters. If there is a collision in state waters, does the common law of the State apply, or the General Maritime Law? How does a parties' failure to abide by the Rules of the Road affect the outcome of the case? Should a claim be filed in State or Federal court? Effective representation requires answers to these questions. If there has been a wrongful death, as opposed to just an injury, these questions become rapidly more complex.

If you have been injured on the water, there are several steps that you need to take. First, obviously, seek appropriate medical care. Second, document as much as you can about what occurred -- write down your memories, gather photographs and documents. Later, seek counsel that is knowledgeable about maritime claims. You may have a claim because a vessel was unseaworthy, or due to a vessel throwing a large wake, or because of dangerous product design. Your claim may be foreclosed because the vessel was a total loss. Your counsel will need to understand these concepts, as well as the medical evidence, in order to properly evaluate your claim.

If you are a vessel owner, operator or master, and a serious injury has occurred (whether or not you believe it to have been your fault), there are also a series of steps you should take. First, be sure that the injured person receives medical care, and that appropriate State or Coast Guard authorities are notified. Second, gather information, take pictures, identify witnesses, and generally put yourself in a position to be able to demonstrate what happened. Third (and possibly this should even be second), notify your insurance carrier concerning what happened, and be absolutely certain that you are assigned an adjuster that is knowledgeable about marine claims. If your case requires legal representation, be sure that you are assigned knowledgeable counsel. Your livelihood may depend on it.