Jones Act Law – Center Console Accidents

Center console boats are a special type of runabout boats, ideal for fishing and getting around the water with relative ease. With their unique hull shape, runabouts are designed to skim across the top of the water, instead of pushing through, these types of boats can be quite fast. These types of boats, in particular, allow occupants to freely walk from bow to stern, while the skipper operates the boat from the console control center.

This combination of speed and ease of movement can be a recipe for serious injuries and death when operated in an unsafe manner. When accidents do occur, they are generally subject to maritime laws, with few exceptions. Whether the boat is being operated for recreational purposes or for commercial purposes, it is likely that maritime law will apply.

Center Console Accidents – An Overview

Center console boats are characterized by an open hull and a centrally located steering, communications, and navigation center. This design enables passengers to move about the boat with ease, which is especially desirable when fishing. These vessels also come with fairly high horsepower engines, which facilitate high-speed travel across the water. The most common accidents associated with center console boats include:

  • passengers overboard
  • flooding
  • colliding with fixed objects
  • striking other boats

When operating in navigable waters, accidents in these vessels are typically governed by federal maritime laws. For those accidents involving commercial operations of a center console vessel, injured employees may be protected under the federal maritime law known as the Jones Act. To be eligible for Jones Act protections, you must be a qualified seaman who spends at least 30% of your employed time on a qualified vessel operating in the navigable waters of the U.S.

Center Console Accident Causes

Center console accidents can be caused by any number of factors, predominantly high speeds and sharp turning. According to a recent report by the United States Coast Guard, the most common accident causes for motorboats in general were:

  • Operator Inattention
  • Improper Lookouts
  • Excessive Speeds
  • Mechanical Failures
  • Operator Inexperience
  • Non-adherence to navigational rules
  • Heavy waves

Most boating accidents involve a combination of driver inexperience/inattention, combined with some unexpected event. Many passengers end up falling overboard because they have not been properly briefed on safety or the driver is operating the vessel in an unsafe manner. Other times, a vessel may be unseaworthy and some mechanical defect causes a collision or flooding. All of these causes involve negligence of some sort.

Center Console Accident Injuries

Center console boats have a high likelihood of losing passengers in heavy waves or at high speeds. Additionally, due to frequent high-speed use, collisions are common with center console vessels. High speeds often mean more severe injuries and death. Injuries typical of these types of vessels include:

  • Drowning
  • Gashes
  • Spinal chord damage
  • Loss of limbs
  • Soft-tissue injuries
  • Internal bleeding
  • Fractured bones
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries

Assigning Liability In Center Console Boating Accidents

Like most accidents, center console boat accidents are avoidable. Depending on the circumstances, liability for injuries may lie with:

  • the vessel owner
  • the vessel operator
  • the vessel manufacturer
  • the vessel maintenance crew
  • an employer
  • a government agency
  • a third party

Owners and operators have a duty to ensure that the vessel is seaworthy and operated in a manner safe under the circumstances. Under the Jones Act, this duty is heightened and the level of negligence that must be proven is relatively low compared with standard negligence laws.

Those who manufacture the vessel and its’ component parts also owe a duty of care to ensure that the vessel and components are free from defects and are as safe as possible for their intended purposes.

Failure to uphold any of these duties may result in liability for center console boat accident injuries. Talking with an attorney that specializes in boating accidents and maritime law will be beneficial in uncovering the potential liabilities and the best course of action for you moving forward.

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