Legal Blog

Safe Summer Boating – Protect yourself from the risks

Boating is widely popular in Canada but with its popularity comes significant legal and safety risks. Today, I want to spend some time explaining the risks and how you can protect yourself and your family to ensure a summer of safe boating.

Boating Statistics

It’s estimated that 15,000,000 Canadians will go boating this year – yes, nearly half the people in our country will find themselves on a boat this year.

As personal injury lawyers, when we hear statistics about these fun activities, we can’t help but be concerned about the many dangers involved with boating. Statistics tells us that recreational boating will cause approximately 175 deaths this year and many more severe injuries.

The problem is that Canada’s boating laws are designed to limit the compensation available to individuals injured because of a boater’s negligence. In other words, someone seriously injured in a boating accident will be severely under-compensated due to our boating laws – few can afford the cost of being seriously injured in a boating accident.

Boating Law 101

Let me give you an example to demonstrate the point.

Frank is a boater who is out on the water pulling around some wake boarders one night. He is an experienced boater, but he has had the ever so popular “two beers”. A split second decision results in him running over 19 year old Tina.

Like motorcycle accidents, there aren’t many “minor” injuries when it comes to boating accidents. The propeller from Frank’s boat inflicts serious damage. It slices through Tina like a hot knife through butter leaving her with horrific wounds. She survives, but is left with the loss of a leg, severe scarring and skin grafts. Nerve damage causes intractable, burning, neuropathic nerve pain. Doctors tell her that this type of pain is the hardest to treat.

Her emotional wounds cut even deeper. Tina is left with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and long term anxiety and depression.

The combination of Tina’s physical and psychological injuries leave her unemployed and in need of care for the rest of her life. Doctors will struggle to come up with a cocktail of pain medication that will lessen her pain. Likewise, she will incur the cost of prosthetics and life long treatment for her many physical and psychological injuries. OHIP will only cover a small portion of the treatment, devices and medication she will require over the rest of her life.

How much compensation might Tina receive for her injuries? She would likely receive around $300,000 for pain and suffering.  But what about her future loss of income? Even if her loss of income was a modest $40,000 per year, the value of her lifelong loss of income is in the millions of dollars. Her care costs will be even higher. Overall, Tina’s claims are worth in excess of $10,000,000.

But Tina will only recover a fraction of this amount because of Canadian boating laws. Canada’s Marine Liability Act restricts the amount of money that Tina can recover due to Frank’s negligence to $1,000,000, unless the damages were caused either intentionally, or so recklessly that Frank knew the injuries were likely to happen.

On top of this, OHIP will be eligible to recover a share of the million dollar limit. In this type of law suit, OHIP is also permitted to recover the expenses it incurs because of Frank’s negligence. OHIP’s claim will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not higher. OHIP would share pro rata with Tina in the $1,000,000 limits under the Marine Liability Act.

The end result is that after paying OHIP and her lawyers, Tina will recover somewhere in the range of $750,000.00 for her case that has a value of $10,000,000. She will never be able to afford the care she needs. She will struggle to pay her bills for the rest of her life.

Boating Injury Prevention

Wear Life Jackets

We know how devastating boating injuries can be, so how can we reduce the risk of sustaining one? A twenty year study completed by the Red Cross found that wearing a life jacket would prevent approximately half of boating related deaths. While you may consider yourself a strong swimmer, if you lose consciousness or injure yourself in the water, a life jacket could prevent you from drowning.

Alcohol and Boating

Not surprisingly, the other major factor in boating injuries is alcohol. According to the Red Cross study, alcohol is a contributing factor in over half of boating related deaths. Clearly, it’s important for boat operators, and those towed behind a boat, not to drink alcohol. It’s also important as a passenger to be certain that the operator of a boat has not been drinking.

Drunk boaters also risk criminal penalties. Drunk driving a boat carries the same penalty as drunk driving a car.

Swimming in Unfamiliar Waters

Just because you are not on a boat, does not mean you are immune from suffering a boating related injury. Often, boaters drive over swimmers causing severe injuries. These injuries can happen when the swimmer is swimming in unfamiliar water. If you are going swimming on a lake it’s always a good idea to wear bright colours and have someone paddling beside you in a canoe or kayak. A boater may not see you swimming in the water, but will see your friend. The flip side is that, as a boater, even if you are familiar with the water, always be on the lookout for swimmers who may venture into traditional boating lanes.

Hopefully with these tips in mind, you will have a safe summer.  Happy boating!

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