Boats in a line tied up on the doc

Unfortunately, what begins as a relaxing day on the water ends in tragedy for many recreational boaters in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. Each year, dozens of people get hurt or die in Midwest recreational boat accidents. Whether you own a boat or you’re enjoying a day on the lake with friends, you deserve to know how boat accidents happen, what injuries may result, and how to protect your legal rights after a boat accident.

Common Causes of Boat Accidents

Boaters are responsible for using reasonable care to avoid boat accidents, but this doesn’t always happen, and boat accidents may occur if a boater is reckless or negligent. Some specific examples of boater negligence include:

  • Drinking or being under the influence of drugs. Intoxication is one of the most common causes of boat accidents. Boat operators may be tempted to have a drink while enjoying their time on the lake. However, drunk boating has similar dangers to drunk driving and can cause catastrophic accidents.
  • Speeding. A boat that is traveling too fast can cause passengers to lose their positions and fall on the deck or overboard. Additionally, passengers may be hurt if the vessel capsizes or crashes.
  • Distraction. It’s easy to be distracted by passengers, relaxing, during a day on the lake. However, boat operators need to remain focused on operating their boats safely.
  • Drowsiness. A day in the sun can make even a well-rested boat operator tired, and tired boat operators may make dangerous mistakes.
  • Operating an overloaded boat. An overloaded boat may be unbalanced and more likely to take on water or turn over.
  • Operating a boat without necessary emergency equipment. Boats should have first aid equipment and life jackets in case of emergency.
  • Manufacturing defects. A boat operator may have trouble controlling a vessel that has a manufacturing defect.
  • Maintenance problems. Boat operators may also have trouble controlling vessels that were not adequately maintained or fixed.

An experienced boat accident lawyer can investigate the accident that hurt you or killed your loved one to find out what caused the accident and what you might do next.

Boat Accident Injuries

Regardless of the boat accident cause, you should watch for immediate and delayed signs of injury, including but not limited to:

  • Drowning. A fall overboard may result in drowning. Drowning is not always fatal and may result in other types of injuries.
  • Traumatic brain injuries. A brain injury may occur if you are deprived of oxygen while underwater or if you hit your head during a boat accident.
  • Spinal cord injuries. You may suffer a spinal cord injury if you fall on your back during a boat crash or because of the force with which the boat hits the water or another object.
  • Broken bones. Any bone can break during the forceful collision of a boat crash. Your injury may depend on the type of accident and what part of your body was hurt.
  • Internal injuries. You may not experience symptoms of internal bleeding and injuries to internal organs immediately after a boat accident, but your medical team should check for these dangerous types of injuries.
  • Lacerations resulting in scarring. Significant lacerations may result in permanent scarring. This type of injury may be especially troublesome if it occurs on your face.

Other types of injuries, including but not limited to amputation and electrocutions, may also occur.

What to Do—and What Not to Do—After a Boat Accident

State law requires boat operators to take specific actions after a boat accident. For example, in Wisconsin, boat operators must report any accident that results in death, injury, or property damage exceeding $2,000. In any of these situations, the boat operator must:

  • Immediately stop the vessel at the accident scene
  • Immediately assist anyone who is hurt or in danger, unless doing so would seriously endanger their own vessel or passengers
  • Provide their name, address, and vessel identification to anyone who was hurt or who suffered property damage in the accident
  • Immediately report the accident to a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation warden or a local law enforcement officer
  • Submit DNR Form 4100-20 to DNR Boat Safety, P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707 within ten days of the accident

Additionally, people injured in boat accidents may:

  • Get medical care
  • Take photos at the accident scene
  • Get witness contact information at the accident scene
  • Consult an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible

The actions above may help you protect your recovery. However, it’s just as important to avoid mistakes as it is to take the right steps to protect your recovery. You may avoid unnecessary complications in your boat accident case by:

  • Not skipping medical appointments. Following through with your medical treatment plan may help your physical and legal recoveries.
  • Acting consistently with your injuries. The insurance company may have an investigator following you. You should always tell the truth about your injuries and act consistently with your injuries.
  • Avoiding social media mistakes. Anything you post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media accounts may be misconstrued and used against you.

Together, all of these steps may make your legal recovery easier and help you make a fair recovery for your past and future medical costs, lost income, out-of-pocket expenses, physical pain, and emotional suffering.

How a Boat Accident Case Works

If you decide to pursue a boat accident case, our personal injury lawyers will support you and take the necessary steps to protect your recovery. More specifically, we will:

  • Provide you with a free consultation
  • Investigate and evaluate your damages
  • Assess the value of your case
  • Negotiate with the right insurance companies
  • File a personal injury lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires
  • Obtain evidence through the legal discovery process
  • Continue to try to settle your case through negotiation and mediation
  • Thoroughly prepare for trial
  • Take your case to court, if a settlement is not reached
  • Go above and beyond the call of duty to get you the recovery you deserve

We offer all of this with our Win, or It’s Free Guarantee! Our attorneys are only paid if your case results in a settlement or court recovery.

Contact a Boat Accident Attorney to Get Your Questions Answered

We understand that you likely have more questions than we’ve answered here. Our personal injury lawyers would be happy to answer all of your questions during a free, no-obligation consultation in any of our 11 Midwest personal injury law offices, your home or hospital room, or by phone or video conference. Contact us any time to schedule your first meeting and to learn more about protecting your rights after a boat accident.


Jason F. Abraham
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Helping car accident and personal injury victims throughout Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa since 1993.