Lake Michigan is widely considered the deadliest lake in America, and its shores touch four states, including Illinois. In 2022 alone, there were 43 drownings in Lake Michigan, many involving boats, and likely even more accidents that caused injuries but no fatalities.

But it’s important to remember that a boating accident can happen on any lake or waterway in Illinois.

Unfortunately, an accident on the water can leave even strong swimmers vulnerable to drowning, especially in an area like Lake Michigan, where strong currents and winds can easily overpower a swimmer.

Aside from the risk of drowning, people in boating accidents may suffer injuries from the collision, including broken bones, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), back and spine injuries, internal injuries, and even death.

If you or a loved one have been hurt in a boating accident, it can be difficult to determine liability. In some cases, you may be able to recover from the boat owner’s insurance policy, but in other situations, another party could be responsible.

This party may claim the accident wasn’t their fault or dispute your version of events. What can you do to ensure your rights are protected?

At The Personal Injury Lawyers ™, our boat accident attorneys are prepared to fight for your rights and help you navigate the complexities of the legal system. We understand the urgency of your situation and are committed to getting you the justice you deserve. 

How an Illinois Boat Accident Attorney Can Help

After a boating accident, you may have painful injuries that require medical treatment. More likely than not, your health insurance won’t cover everything, and what if you can’t work while injured?

Your sick days or paid time off could be used up quickly. Additionally, if the boat in question was yours, you might have some repair bills to settle up.

Sometimes, clients who were in an accident involving their own boat come to us because they made a claim with their boat insurance policy but received a denial or an undervalued settlement.

It’s important to understand that boat insurance does not always cover every expense. Usually, it covers situations like theft and physical damage to the boat, as well as liability if others are injured in an accident attributed to the boat owner.

However, each policy is different, and most people haven’t read or understood the full implications of the “fine print.”

Insurance companies take advantage of the fact that their policies are lengthy and contain convoluted language. They may argue that certain situations are not covered when they should be, and frequently, policyholders take their word for it and pay the expenses themselves.

An experienced boat accident attorney can help by carefully reviewing your policy and determining if the insurance company has refused to pay for a cost they should cover.

There are sometimes situations where expenses are genuinely not covered. For instance, many boat insurance policies will cover repairs on a boat but not towing costs.

Generally, your own medical costs will not be covered under a liability policy, and sometimes passengers’ expenses are not covered either unless you’ve purchased a medical rider. In these situations, your lawyer will consider other possibilities to get your expenses paid.

What if the Boat Accident Was Not Your Fault?

Another way a boat accident lawyer can be helpful is in determining fault for the accident. As we discussed earlier, there may be multiple liable parties, and determining responsibility can be complicated.

Under some circumstances, the boat owner may be liable. However, the accident could also have been caused by the owner or driver of another watercraft that struck your boat.

Or, a manufacturer of either the boat or one of its components could have caused the accident through a defective part. A mechanic who worked on one of the boats and did not complete repairs correctly may also be at fault.

Another common reason insurance companies give for refusing to pay boat accident claims is that the policyholder was not at fault. Again, they may or may not be right, but it’s worth speaking with an attorney to find out.

If another party is liable, we can help you pursue a claim against that person or entity.

Investigating a Boat Accident

Your attorney will ask you details about the accident, like who owned the boat, who was operating the boat, and what, if anything, you remember about the collision. We will also investigate in other ways, speaking to witnesses, requesting documents, and examining any photos or videos we can find.

If you’re in a position to do so, we recommend taking pictures of your injuries and boat damage after an accident and writing down the names and contact info of everyone present. This could be helpful to our investigation later.

In many cases, we find evidence that another party was responsible, or mostly at fault, for the accident. This distinction of being mostly at fault is important because of Illinois laws on personal injury cases.

Modified Comparative Negligence and Boating Accidents

Illinois is one of many states that use modified comparative negligence to acknowledge that some accident or injury cases have more than one responsible party. In other words, it’s possible for multiple parties to contribute to an accident rather than one party being 100 percent at fault.

Illinois uses a 51-percent bar to the recovery rule in these cases. This means that a plaintiff (an injured person) can recover damages if they are less than 51 percent at fault.

Any percentage of the damage they do have is reduced from their damages. To put it another way, if you were found to be 12 percent at fault, you would lose 12 percent of your recovery.

Yet another strategy insurance companies use is claiming another party was at fault even if they know their client has some responsibility. They may not convince the other insurance company, or companies involved that their client was completely blameless.

But that’s not a problem – they only have to make a case that their client was less than 51 percent responsible. Or, if the evidence doesn’t support that assertion, they could still reduce their liability by claiming another party was even 10 or 20 percent at fault.

If your own insurance company is involved, they may not push back on a partial liability claim if the percentage is low enough that they won’t have to pay anything on your behalf. But you will lose some of the damages you deserve.

The way to avoid losing out to both insurance companies is to contact an Illinois boat accident lawyer as soon as possible. Your attorney will work to demonstrate that you had no responsibility, or a very small percentage, in order to protect your right to recovery.

What if You Were Injured as a Boat Passenger?

In most cases, passengers are not at fault in accidents, except in rare circumstances where a passenger acted extremely recklessly. However, sometimes, an insurance company may argue that the passenger’s actions contributed to worsening their injuries.

For instance, they could claim that your injuries would have been less severe if you’d worn a life jacket or taken other safety measures. Life jackets are certainly helpful in reducing the risk of injury and death, and we encourage you to wear them whenever you’re out on a boat.

Still, in many cases, there is no evidence that a life jacket would have prevented or lessened a specific injury.

You may also run into an issue when the boat owner’s insurance policy doesn’t cover passenger injuries in general, or the owner might not have boat insurance. If another party besides the boat owner was at fault in the accident, we could seek compensation from that party or their boat insurance.

If the only liable party is the boat owner, it is possible to sue them directly.

Who Was Driving the Boat?

Sometimes, the boat owner is not the person operating the boat at the time of the crash. If the boat operator was driving unsafely – speeding, ignoring the rules of the water or wake restrictions, boating under the influence – they might be liable.

But responsibility can also be complicated in these cases. If the boat owner knowingly allowed an inexperienced or intoxicated friend to drive the boat, the owner may have been negligent, too.

Depending on the language of the owner’s boat insurance policy, the accident may or may not be covered in these circumstances. A personal injury lawyer will be able to make a claim against the owner and/or the operator if they have significant assets we can seize.

What About Rental Boats and Waivers?

Here is another common situation: You rent a boat and, as expected, sign a waiver noting that you are responsible for damages to the boat, injuries, etc. Then, you have an accident. Are you completely out of luck?

Not necessarily. A waiver is meant to save a business like a boat rental company time and money on litigation instead of going to court every time a customer crashes their boat.

The company is not responsible for your errors in judgment – or the errors in judgment of other boaters, for that matter. However, they are responsible for their own actions, and if those actions are negligent and lead to an injury, a waiver should not prevent you from recovering compensation.

Typically, this comes up in cases where the rental boat has not been maintained properly, or the company otherwise ignored safety concerns. Here are some examples: 

  • The boat business put off necessary repairs or routine maintenance, and an issue that could have been fixed or prevented caused the accident. It will be necessary to prove that the owner failed to perform reasonable boat maintenance and that this failure led to the accident.
  • The rental business may have failed to verify the renter had the necessary qualifications to operate a boat in Illinois. For example, if they failed to verify that you or the person who rented the boat had a Boating Safety Certificate, they could have been negligent.
  • There are strict regulations for safety equipment on boats. For instance, a boat must have lifejackets available for each person on board. If the rental company failed to ensure there were enough jackets for the number of people in your party, they might have been negligent. Boats should also have fire extinguishers, noise-making devices in case of emergency, and visual distress signals. If any of these items weren’t onboard or were found to be non-functional in an emergency, that could also be a sign of negligence.
  • If the boat rental came with the services of a boat operator, and this person’s actions led to the accident, we will look into their background. Sometimes, the rental company may have hired a captain without thoroughly examining their qualifications or checking to see if they had a history of preventable boat accidents. If so, this could be a negligent hiring situation.

How to Get Help From an Illinois Law Firm Specializing in Boat Accidents

If you or a loved one have been injured in a boating accident, you may not know if some of these situations apply to your accident. Chances are, you didn’t see everything that happened, or you may not remember the events clearly after dealing with a serious injury.

Local law enforcement is usually called in when a boating accident results in serious injuries, death, or major damage. Still, their investigation is often challenging – much of the evidence may have already sunk by the time the local authorities arrive.

Never assume you are at fault for a boat accident or that you can’t pursue compensation for your injuries. Instead, please contact The Personal Injury Lawyers ™, where we strive to be a voice for the injured.

Your initial consultation is free and confidential to learn your options without obligation. If there is a way to recover damages in your case, we’ll find it. Call our experienced boat accident law firm today at 312-999-9990.

Founder and lead attorney Robert S. Fakhouri graduated from the Chicago-Kent College of Law and quickly built a reputation as a skilled litigator. After working as a litigation associate, he opened The Personal Injury Lawyers ™, where he dedicates himself to protecting the legal rights of people who have been injured due to negligence.

When he’s not working on a case or negotiating with insurance companies, you can find him giving no-nonsense legal advice to his many followers on social media.


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