The recent sinking of a duck boat on a popular Missouri lake and the tragic loss of its passengers has brought heightened awareness to the issue of boating safety. When clients come to see us here at Tabak Mellusi & Shisha LLP following boating accidents, most claim to have assumed that the responsibility of ensuring boat passenger safety was that of a vessel’s captain. It typically is, yet as was detailed in a previous blog post, the Limitation of Liability Act limits the amount of liability that can be assigned to vessel owners in such accidents. Yet what happens if negligence is proven on the part of a boat owner in an accident you were involved.
Section 183(a) of the federal statute detailing the Limitation of Liability Act (as shared by the Cornell Law School) states that the limitation on liability only applies in cases where vessel owners are without a privity or knowledge of potential risks. In this context, “privity or knowledge” refers to potential dangers that were known or should have been known by boat owners. Take the example of the Missouri accident. Officials have confirmed that the vessel did have life jackets available, yet passengers were not required to wear them (one survivor of the incident even said that the boat captain told them they would not be needed).
You might certainly view the failure of boating company to insist that passengers take advantage of every safety measure available to them as a flawed policy. If indeed a lack of such a policy exists, it could be argued that vessel owners should know that you and other passengers might be at risk in the event of an accident, thus demonstrating privity or knowledge.
More information on determining liability for boating accidents can be found here on our site.