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How Federal Law May Apply to a Boating Accident


If someone is injured in a boating accident, they have the same right to sue the negligent parties as someone involved in a car accident. However, boating accidents may invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction, which is a distinct body of law from state-based personal injury claims.

Judge Awards Damages to Injured Bass Tournament Cameraman Following Boat Crash

A recent decision from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Gulley v. Operation Bass, illustrates how admiralty law works in accident cases. This case centers on a 2011 Ranger Z520 fishing boat. The specific boat in question belonged to Operation Bass, which organizes an annual televised bass fishing tournament on Kentucky Lake.

The plaintiff here was a camera operator assigned to ride on the Z520 boat to film one of the tournament contestants. The contestant was responsible for operating the boat. According to the Sixth Circuit’s opinion, the contestant removed the pedestal seat from his fishing platform and placed it “in the aisle between the driver and passenger seats.” The contestant then proceeded to accelerate. During this time, the pedestal seat “began to move around in the aisle.” This distracted the contestant, and as he tried to secure the loose seat, the boat crashed into a bridge.

The plaintiff sustained a number of injuries in the crash, including multiple rib fractures and a head wound. He subsequently applied for and received workers’ compensation benefits from Operation Bass, his employer. The plaintiff also filed a lawsuit under federal maritime law against the contestant and Operation Bass.

A federal judge dismissed the maritime claims against Operation Bass and its insurance company, but allowed the plaintiff to proceed against the contestant. As the contestant previously admitted liability, the only issue for the judge to decide was damages. The judge ultimately awarded nearly $500,000 in damages, although approximately $189,000 of that amount was used to reimburse Operation Bass’ insurance company for the workers’ compensation benefits it previously paid to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff still filed an appeal, specifically challenging the trial court’s decision to dismiss his claims against Operation Bass. The crux of the plaintiff’s claim was that the boat was “unseaworthy” under maritime law due to the loose pedestal seat. But as the Sixth Circuit explained, the problem here was not with the boat–it was the fact the boat’s driver “failed to look ahead and crashed into a bridge.” The appeals court therefore affirmed the trial judge’s prior ruling.

Speak with a Tennessee Accident Attorney Today

When you are involved in any type of accident, whether on land or water, there are a number of legal issues that may come into play. Working with an experienced Clinton personal injury lawyer is therefore essential if you are looking to seek compensation from any responsible parties. If you have been injured in an accident and need legal advice on what steps to take next, contact the offices of Fox Willis Burnetts, PLLC, today to schedule a free consultation.




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