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Damages in Actions Involving Recreational Boating Accidents

Torts: Transportation Torts: Watercraft

Transportation Law: Water Transportation: Personal Injury & Property Damage

When an action involving a recreational boating accident is brought in accordance with federal admiralty law, such federal admiralty law controls the issue of damages. Damages under federal admiralty law are similar to damages under the common law.

In a federal admiralty action, a court will award compensatory damages to an injured party, which compensatory damages are supposed to place the injured party in the condition that he or she would have been in if he or she had not been injured. If the injured party is a vessel, damages will be based on the reasonable cost of the repair of the vessel. If the cost of repair exceeds the fair market value of the vessel prior to the accident, damages will be based on the fair market value of the vessel prior to the accident. Attorneys’ fees may also be awarded as part of the compensatory damages.

Under federal admiralty law, a successful party is entitled to an award of prejudgment interest. Such an award is not considered to be a penalty. It is considered to be compensation for the use of the successful party’s funds. The interest accrues from the date of the accident or the loss. If a trial court does not award prejudgment interest, the court must make a specific finding.

Punitive damages may be awarded under federal admiralty law. Punitive damages are awarded when a defendant’s conduct was reckless or was in disregard for the rights of others. Punitive damages are also awarded for gross negligence, malice or criminal indifference. However, punitive damages cannot be awarded to seamen who file actions under the Jones Act.

If a plaintiff obtains a judgment against more than one defendant in a federal admiralty case, the plaintiff may recover all or part of the judgment from one defendant or from all the defendants. This is called joint and several liability. All defendants who are joined in the plaintiff’s lawsuit bear responsibility for the plaintiff’s damages. The defendants’ responsibilities are usually based on their proportionate share of the fault.

One of the unique remedies in federal admiralty law is the ability to file a proceeding against a vessel itself. This type of proceeding is called an in rem proceeding. The vessel is named as the defendant. If a plaintiff in an in rem proceeding is successful, a lien will attach to the vessel, which lien is security for the plaintiff’s damages. This type of proceeding is more common in international situations, such as when the owners of a vessel are located in another country. However, the proceeding does apply to any claims for personal injury, death or damages as a result of a collision. The proceeding could therefore be applied to recreational boating accidents.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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