Anyone who is involved with boating knows that where there are boats, there is alcohol, and plenty of it.
I’m proud to say that I’m a boater. For me, boating has added dimension to my life. My boat, when the weather permits (my home state is Illinois), is my “million miles from Monday” destination. I’m also a Chicago personal injury lawyer. The combination of being both a boater and a personal injury lawyer gives me a platform to help keep the waterways in Illinois safe. Sometimes, in addition to the criminal justice system, the civil justice system is necessary to hold negligent and reckless boaters accountable for their actions.
Boat people feel a special bond with other boat people. It may be because we were all foolish enough to dump a bunch of money into a piece of equipment that causes a lot of hassle, needs constant care and depreciates in the blink of an eye. Some say BOAT is an acronym for Bring Out Another Thousand. That being said, most boaters are passionate about their watercraft, whether they have a small go fast boat, a sail boat or a luxury yacht. Boating is wonderful and most boat operators are safe and responsible. Nevertheless, boat accidents occur, sometimes as a result of boat operator negligence and other times as a result of boating under the influence.
Alcohol and Boating
Anyone who is involved with boating knows that where there are boats, there is alcohol, and plenty of it. In fact, I was visiting a friend recently who just purchased a beautiful 45 foot power boat. The boat came equipped with two bedrooms (staterooms), two bathrooms (heads), a kitchen (galley) and about a million places to put alcohol – cup holders, wine racks… It even came with a set of whiskey glasses. My friend’s wife joked that there was not enough room to store her under garments but enough cup holders to accommodate a party of 20.
Alcohol and boating make for a bad combination. Illinois lawmakers recognize this and in 2014, boaters in Illinois are subject to the same alcohol testing as motorists. If the operator of a boat is in an accident involving injury or death, he must submit to drug and alcohol testing. If he refuses or has a blood alcohol level over .08, he faces suspension of his driver’s license and other penalties. Note – when I say driver’s license, I mean the license that permits you to operate a vehicle. In Illinois, most boaters don’t have or need licenses to operate a boat, even a really big boat/yacht.
Of course there are reasons other than alcohol that cause accidents such as driver error or inexperience. Just about any adult can go out and buy a boat and take it out on the water without knowing what the heck they are doing. I was fortunate enough to have good training but I’ve seen people buy boats, big boats, and then crash them almost immediately.
Seeking Punitive Damages Against A Drunk Boater
Most boat accident cases are brought under the theory of ordinary negligence. Cases involving inattention to surroundings or driving too fast would generally be based on ordinary negligence theories. Some cases (like those involving an intoxicated boat operator) may also involve allegations of a wilful and wanton disregard for the safety of others. These types of cases often seek punitive damages against the reckless boat operator. Punitive damages, though quite rare in personal injury cases, are designed to punish the reckless boat operator and deter him and others from being reckless in the future.
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