Learn who’s legally responsible when a boat accident results in damages, injuries, or death in the Land of 10,000 Lakes
Minnesotans know that the Land of 10,000 Lakes (more like over 14,000, according to the U.S. Geological Survey) is one of the best states in the entire country for boaters.
Minnesota has more registered boats per 100,000 people than any other state.
On most days, a few hours on the water is a terrific way to unwind and destress. Unfortunately, accident victims know all too well that most days aren’t all days.
In this article, we’ll take a look at Minnesota boat accidents, including the laws you should be familiar with as a Minnesota boater, how to establish liability after a boat accident, and what damages may be available if you or a loved one is injured in a boat accident.
Are boat accidents common in Minnesota?
Each year, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) compiles statistics on reported recreational boating accidents throughout the United States.
In 2020, the USCG counted 5,265 boating accidents that involved 767 deaths, 3,191 injuries, and roughly $62.5 million dollars of property damage.
Let’s take a look at boat accidents in Minnesota specifically:
|Minnesota boating accidents (2014-2020)|
|Fatal boat accidents||14||18||18||12||14||10||16|
|Non-fatal boat accidents||36||71||79||92||64||90||89|
|Source: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources|
Although the statistics for 2021 are not yet available, preliminary reports indicate that boat usage and boating fatalities increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most boating fatalities are the result of boat occupants without life jackets falling overboard.
The man, along with 3 other passengers, had gone out on Mille Lacs Lake to fish. After 20 minutes of fishing, they decided to turn around due to choppy water. Before they could return to shore, waves caused the front of the boat to dip, putting the 4 men into the water. The 3 passengers who were wearing life jackets were able to climb back into the boat or swim ashore. The 1 passenger who was not wearing a life jacket drowned.
What Minnesota boating laws do I need to know about?
Boating laws in Minnesota can be broken up into 2 categories:
- Required equipment, and
- General operation.
Let’s take a look at both.
1. Mandatory Minnesota boating equipment laws
There is no question that wearing a life jacket is the smart thing to do. According to research conducted at the University of Maryland in collaboration with the USCG, life jackets increase your odds of surviving a boating accident by 80%.
But are life jackets required under Minnesota law?
Here’s what you need to know:
- Children under 10 years old are required to wear a properly-fitted life jacket at all times.
- A readily accessible life jacket must be available for each person on board a boat (this includes canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and paddle boats) regardless of age.
- A USCG Type IV throwable flotation device is required on boats 16 feet or longer.
- All operators and passengers of personal watercraft (for example, Jet Skis) must wear life jackets.
Life jackets aren’t the only thing to keep in mind when preparing to take a boat out on the water. Here are some other Minnesota boating equipment laws you should know about:
- Motorboats between 16-26 feet must be equipped with a whistle or horn capable of producing continuous sound for 2 seconds and audible for at least a half-mile.
- Motorboats carrying or using fuel or other flammable fluid must have a USCG Type B fire extinguisher onboard.
- Motorboats carrying or using any fuel that has a flashpoint of 110 degrees or less in any compartment must be equipped with an efficient ventilating system to remove combustible gases.
- All watercraft motors must have a muffler, underwater exhaust, or some other device that suppresses the sound of the motor.
- Toilets on board watercraft must be no-discharge devices.
2. Minnesota general boating operation laws
Just like motor vehicle operators, boat operators have to abide by certain laws when navigating the Minnesota waters.
The first thing to keep in mind is that not just anyone can operate a boat. Here are the age requirements in Minnesota:
|Less than 12 years of age||12-17 years of age|
There are 3 navigational rules that are likely to come up almost any time you take your boat out on the water:
- Passing. When overtaking another boat going in the same direction, the boat being overtaken must maintain its course and speed. The passing boat must keep a sufficient distance to avoid colliding with or endangering the other craft from its wake.
- Meeting. When 2 boats approach each other head-on, each must move to the right to avoid colliding. Boats must also keep to the right in narrow channels.
- Crossing. If 2 boats approach each other at a right angle, the boat to the right has the right-of-way.
It is unlawful to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicating substance in Minnesota. The blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for impaired operation is .08%. If you are found guilty of boating while intoxicated (BWI), you could face fines, possible jail time, and loss of operating privileges.
Common causes of boat accidents
Each year, the USCG releases its Recreational Boating Statistics report, which looks at the top 10 contributing factors for boat accidents. Here are the latest findings ranked by the number of accidents:
|Top 10 boat accident contributing factors (2020)|
|Contributing factor||Number of accidents||Number of deaths||Number of injuries|
|Navigation rules violation||316||26||220|
|Force of wave/wake||215||14||182|
In addition, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources keeps its own records for non-fatal accidents. Here’s what it found for 2020:
|Primary causes of Minnesota non-fatal boat accidents (2020)|
|Type of accident||Number|
|Collision with another watercraft||26|
|Fall in boat||7|
|Struck by propeller||5|
|Collision with a floating object||4|
|Collision with an underwater object||2|
|Grounding (hitting bottom)||1|
|Carbon monoxide exposure||1|
|Collision with a swimmer||0|
Liability for a Minnesota boat accident
To receive compensation for a boat accident, you need to prove that someone else was responsible for your accident. Although you might believe that someone else was at fault for your accident, you’ll need to prove that they were legally at fault to recover damages.
In most cases, this means proving the person was negligent. To establish negligence in Minnesota, you must prove 3 elements:
- The defendant owed you a duty to exercise reasonable care
- The defendant breached their duty to exercise reasonable care, and
- The defendant’s breach was the cause of your accident.
Some examples of the parties that may be liable in a Minnesota boat accident include:
- The operator of a boat. A boat operator may be liable if, for example, they were operating the boat while intoxicated or failed to observe right-of-way laws.
- Passengers. A passenger may be liable if they acted in a way that caused the accident, such as starting a fight that disabled or incapacitated the boat operator.
- Manufacturers. A manufacturer may be liable if the boat accident was the result of a defective product.
- Restaurant or bar. A restaurant or bar may be liable if they serve alcohol to an obviously intoxicated individual and that individual later crashes a boat.
The powerboat was operated by Scott Deville, who had a BAC of 0.249% at the time of the crash. The operator of the smaller boat was Michael Flamang of Apple Valley, Minnesota, who had a BAC of 0.220%.
The crash left 5 people dead.
The families of the deceased filed lawsuits that were ultimately settled confidentially out of court.
Minnesota modified comparative fault rule
In Minnesota, a plaintiff’s damages are reduced by their percentage of fault. In other words, if a plaintiff is awarded $100,000, but is found to be 10% at fault for the accident, the plaintiff’s damages will be reduced to $90,000.
What’s more, if a plaintiff is more than 50% at fault, the plaintiff is barred from recovering any damages.
What damages are available in a Minnesota boat accident?
Minnesota allows boating accident victims to recover the following damages:
- Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by your accident (e.g., medical expenses, lost wages, property damage).
- Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary losses caused by your accident (e.g., pain and suffering, loss of consortium).
- Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant. Punitive damages are only available in cases in which the acts of the defendant show a deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others.
In Minnesota, there is no cap on damages.
Unfortunately, just because you prove that someone else’s negligence caused your accident, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to actually collect the judgment. If the defendant doesn’t have boater’s insurance or assets, they might not be able to satisfy the judgment. There are, however, collection measures your attorney can take, including garnishing the defendant’s wages.
Are you ready to talk to an attorney about your boat accident claim? Schedule a free initial consultation with an experienced Minnesota boat accident attorney today using our free online directory.