What to Do if You’re Injured by a Drunk Boater

Jon Topolewski
By: Jon Topolewski
PublishedMar 22, 2024
3 minute read

With endless hiking opportunities, it’s easy to forget that Colorado has much to offer in terms of lakes and reservoirs for water enthusiasts. Having a cold brew on a warm, sunny day with the wind in your hair is quite enjoyable, in moderation. Unfortunately, too many boat operators drink to excess, which can lead to incidents that cause serious injury and even death. 

So, with that, let’s take a look at your options for legal recourse if you’re injured by a drunk boater on the water this year. 

The Statistics are Staggering

Alcohol use among boat operators is a sobering problem. The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) reports that alcohol is the leading cause in nearly a third of all boating fatalities nationwide, making it the primary contributor to boating deaths. 

Not only is alcohol use the leading known cause of fatal boating accidents in Colorado, but it’s also the fifth contributing factor for all boating incidents and injuries in the state. The U.S. Coast Guard reported that in 2022, in cases where the leading cause was known, alcohol use was listed as the leading factor in 16% of Colorado’s boating-related deaths. 

Alcohol-Related Boat Accidents on the Rise

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, boating-related incidents in Colorado involving alcohol use doubled from 2018 to 2022, as did injuries. 

When considering the fact that not every incident even gets reported, we can assume there are more victims of boating-related incidents involving a drunk boater than actually documented.  

Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW), the state’s regulating body for boater safety, considers the following when determining whether a boating incident has taken place

  • Damage to or by the vessel or its equipment exceeds $2,000, or the vessel is totaled 
  • Someone suffers an injury requiring more than basic first aid
  • Someone has died as a result of an accident
  • Someone has disappeared from onboard in a way that indicates possible death or injury

Boat incidents may include, but are not limited to, the following events:

  • Capsizing
  • Collision
  • Flooding
  • Fire
  • Explosion

Speed, Weather, and Inattention Creates More Risks

Drinking dulls your senses and judgment, making safe boating decisions challenging. When your abilities are weakened, it’s even harder to handle bad weather, inattention, or high speeds.

Victims Have a Path Toward Legal Recourse

As a personal injury lawyer, I advise all of my clients involved in an incident – drunk boating or otherwise – to respond proactively. If you’ve been injured by an intoxicated boater, this is what I would do: 

Document the Incident

Write down as much information about what happened as possible. Taking a picture of the boat number and stickers and copying down the dealer license is also a good idea. This information will help your attorney build your case. While most personal injury cases settle, my team prepares as if it will go to court. 

Seek Medical Attention

Swift medical aid is crucial for your health and well-being—it will also help us corroborate the details of the incident. 

Report the Incident

If proper authorities weren’t at the scene at the time of the incident, be sure to report the incident to Colorado Parks and Wildlife within five days. C.R.S. 33-13-109

Hire an Attorney

Contact a personal injury attorney to ensure your rights are protected after the accident. 

What You Could Expect to Recover 

In Colorado personal injury cases where someone is hurt, the at-fault party’s insurance might compensate them for the financial and emotional costs of their injuries. The damages my team can help you recover are grouped into three main categories:

Economic damages: Receiving these damages can help you pay for your past and future medical care, lost wages due to the injury, and any damaged property.

Non-economic damages: These damages usually include intangible losses like emotional distress or a loss that impacts relationship dynamics. It can also include the pain and suffering you experienced due to your injuries. 

Punitive damages: Punitive damages differ from compensatory damages in both amount and purpose. As their name suggests, they punish the at-fault party. Punitive damages are only available if the at-fault party acted in a willful and wanton manner. In other words, the boater consciously and intentionally disregarded the safety and rights of others on the water.

Colorado caps the total value of punitive damages at the total amount in actual damages awarded.

Speak to an Attorney if You’ve Been Injured by a Drunk Boater

Getting out on the water should be a relaxing experience, not a frightful one. If you’ve been injured in a boating accident caused by a drunk boater, you are not without hope. Colorado’s legal system provides a clear path for those affected to seek justice and compensation. Call us at 303-688-0944 to start your case assessment now. 

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