Boating accidents can be horrific and punitive damages may be available for boating injuries and fatalities. If there is a sudden stop or shift in direction, occupants can be thrown against parts of the boat like the steering wheel, railings, chairs, glass windshields, and other hard surfaces. Severe injuries can result. If occupants are ejected from the boat, aside from the obvious danger of drowning, serious injury or death can result from being hit while in the water by the boat or propeller or the engine. This is what happened in the case of Warren v. Shelter Mutual Insurance, Co., 233 So 3d 568 (La. 2017). In that case, several passengers were ejected from a boat and thrown into the Calcasieu River when the steering system malfunctioned. The malfunction caused the boat to turn and spin violently which ejected the occupants. One of the ejected occupants was killed when the propeller hit him 19 times as the boat spun around wildly out of control.
If you have been injured in a boating accident, you are entitled to sue for money damages to compensate for injuries suffered and for damages to property. Under Louisiana negligence law, these are called “compensatory damages.” These types of damages include recovery for medical bills, hospitalizations, lost wages/income, pain and suffering and more. Compensatory damages are awarded to compensate the victim for their losses.
Under some circumstances, in addition to recovering these sorts of compensatory damages, a victim can recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the wrongdoer and to discourage wrongful conduct by others. Punitive damages are not generally allowed in typical personal injury or accident cases. But the Warren case discussed above established affirmatively that, here in Louisiana, punitive damages for boating injuries/fatalities are an available remedy under maritime law. Many boating injuries and fatalities are governed by general maritime law in addition to other statutes in Louisiana. Getting advice and counsel from experienced Louisiana personal injury attorneys is essential. There are strict time deadlines that must be met, steps must be taken to locate witnesses and preserve evidence, and your trusted personal injury attorneys will know when punitive damages might be available.
Aside from affirming that punitive damages are available under maritime law, Warren provided a good case illustration of the type of factual circumstances where punitive damages were appropriate. In that case, the main defendant was the manufacturer of the steering system for the boat. The evidence showed that the manufacturer knew that its steering system was dangerous because it was prone to fluid loss. For example, the evidence showed that the manufacturer knew for at least nine years prior to the accident that there was a problem with fluid loss in their steering system, that it knew that loss of fluid could cause the steering to lock up and that the manufacturer had received “thousands of complaints” about fluid loss related to its steering system. Further, the evidence showed that the manufacturer refused to put a warning label on the steering system to avoid causing customer “hysteria.” The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed that these along with other facts were sufficient to allow the jury to award punitive damages under general maritime law. The court affirmed punitive damages in the amount of $4.25 million.
As long as the case falls under general maritime law, an award of punitive damages is not limited to circumstances of defective products. Boating injuries can be caused by many types of wrongful behavior including:
- Driver error in operating the boat
- Failure of the driver to obey maritime rules such as engaged in dangerous maneuvering or operating at excessive speeds
- Operating while impaired such as while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Failure keep the watercraft under good repair and maintenance
- And more
If the wrongful behavior is particularly egregious, punitive damages might be available under the legal principles enunciated in the Warren case.
Call Boating Accident Attorneys Mansfield Melancon Today
If you have been injured in a boating accident, contact the Louisiana boating accident/maritime law attorneys at Mansfield, Melancon, Cranmer & Dick LLC. We have proven experience with many types of personal injury cases. Even if punitive damages are not available in your boating injury case, we can still help you receive the compensation to which you are entitled. Contact us by phone by calling one of our conveniently-located offices: New Orleans at (504) 500-1108, Baton Rouge at (225) 612-0800, or Lafayette at (337) 409-0003. You can also request a free consultation by using our “Contact Us” page.
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