With by far the largest provincial population, four great lakes on our southern and southeast borders, as well thousands of rivers and lakes, it’s little wonder that Ontario households have the greatest recreational boat ownership rate of all Canadian provinces. In fact, some reports suggest that more than 40% of all Ontario households own at least one boat.
Ontario also leads the country in annual recreational boating-related deaths and injuries, according to several studies conducted over the past two decades. This fact was unfortunately highlighted by the horrific two-boat crash on Lake Rosseau in Muskoka that occurred on July 14. The high-speed collision killed two people and injured four others.
Boating-related deaths and injuries are often caused as a result of negligence by the boat’s operator, who has a legal responsibility to operate watercraft in a safe manner. Primary types of negligence include inattention, inexperience, speeding, recklessness, operating with defective equipment, and/or operating while impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Similar to motor vehicles on the road, if you are injured in a watercraft accident in Ontario you have the legal right to make a claim for injuries and damages. While the operator of the boat causing the accident may be held liable, the boat’s owner may also be held liable.
The Complexities of Recreational Boating Liability in Ontario
Because navigable waterways fall under federal jurisdiction and watercraft are regulated by the provinces, the legalities of boating accidents are multi-jurisdictional. In fact, personal liability cases involving watercraft can be addressed under provisions of the federal Marine Liability Act, as well as provincial laws covering insurance, highway traffic, and occupier’s liability.
The Marine Liability Act is the primary legislation regulating the liability of boat operators and/or owners in personal injury cases. The Act generally limits pleasure craft liability compensation to $1 million, except in cases of reckless operation.
The province’s Highway Traffic Act can come into play because the Act holds drivers of all motorized vehicles, including boats with motors, responsible for the safety of their passengers.
The Ontario Occupier’s Liability Act can be utilized in cases in which a boat meets residential requirements (i.e., having cabins, bunks, bathroom(s), and kitchen-style facilities) as described under the Act. The Act further dictates that owners/operators of such ensure that visitors (passengers) are kept safe.
And the provincial Insurance Act regulates liability compensation responsibilities of the watercraft’s insurers. Note that watercraft liability insurance is not mandatory in Ontario and many boat owners do not have it. This can add further complications to personal injury cases involving boating-related accidents.
No matter what laws are utilized in boating-accident related liability cases, common law relies on four parameters to prove negligence:
The existence of a duty of care—that is, a boat owner/operator is responsible for the safety of their passengers and others on the water.
That the standard of care was breached—boat owner/operator breached this duty by failing to operate and/or maintain the boat safely.
That damages were caused by this lack of responsibility—the breach led to an accident or other incident causing damages.
That the damages were foreseeable—reasonable assessment that failure to operation/maintain the watercraft safely could lead to the accident or incident.
What to Do If You Are Involved in an Ontario Boating Accident
There are numerous actions you should take if you are injured in a boating-related accident in Ontario. Of course, the first concern should be the health and well-being of yourself and anyone else impacted by the accident. Due to serious injuries to yourself or others, you may not be capable of taking any steps relating to determining liability at the time of, or shortly after, the accident, but you should contact a personal injury lawyer who is experienced with boat-accident liability as soon as reasonably possible.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can help navigate you through the complexities of Ontario liability law in relation to watercraft accidents. Your personal injury lawyer will make sure that you cover all legal recourses to receive full compensation for injuries and damages and ensure that all legal deadlines relating to claims are met.
To the extent possible, try to take these actions during the immediate aftermath of a boating accident:
Make sure that on-the-scene rescue personnel and/or police are aware of your involvement in the accident.
Get contact information about anyone investigating the accident, whether police, Coast Guard or other rescue personnel.
Try to determine the names and contact information of any witnesses.
If you have a smartphone or camera take numerous photos of the accident scene.
Refresh the details of the accident in your mind and try to write down a full narrative of everything that occurred before, during, and immediately after the accident. This should include details about timing, weather conditions, visibility, wind strength, wave height, other boating activity in the area, apparent physical condition of the boat(s) involved, presence of safety equipment, and any other factors relating to the operation of the watercraft. Also, if known, provide an assessment of the watercraft operator(s)’ experience with boats.
Even if not seriously injured go to the hospital or see a health-care provider for a complete check-up. The full extent of some injuries may not become apparent until many hours, or even days, after the accident.
Your Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Receive Full Compensation
If you have been injured in a recreational boating accident in Ontario, turn to an experienced personal injury lawyer who can help guide you through the complexities of boating-related personal injury law to make sure that you are fully compensated for your injuries.
Ontario personal injury lawyer Steven Polak has a stellar reputation for his work helping accident victims receive full and just compensation for injuries and damages. Steven works diligently to collect all evidence needed to successfully resolve every case and strives through negotiation or litigation to ensure that any victim he serves is justly compensated.
As part of a team of over 100 Ontario lawyers at the award-winning Lerners LLP firm, Steven has acted as counsel in lawsuits in numerous Ontario cities, including Toronto, Durham, Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, Mississauga, Scarborough, Oshawa, Newmarket, Thornhill, Markham, Brantford, and the GTA.
Contact Steven today at (905) 409-2438 to schedule your free consultation.