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While boating accidents can often have devastating consequences, many Canadians may not be aware that personal injury lawsuits arising from these incidents are treated completely differently from other types of personal injury claims, says Toronto lawyer, Jean-Claude Rioux.
“Something most people don’t know is that if you do get injured in a boating accident, your case ends up being decided according to the same rules that are applied in commercial shipping cases. That makes personal injury cases arising from boating accidents very peculiar,” says Rioux, a partner in the civil and commercial litigation practice group at Brauti Thorning Zibarras LLP.
A recent report by Transport Canada’s Office of Boating Safety and the Canadian Red Cross reveals that between 1991 and 2008, boating accounted for an estimated number of just over 3000 fatalities in Canada, 86% of which occurred while participating in some form of recreational boating.
In Canada, says Rioux, the same laws and regulations that apply to commercial ships also apply to pleasure craft on inland waterways.
“Strangely, if you’re injured in a boating accident involving a boat of under 300 tonnes gross tonnage, the boat owners liability is often limited to $1,000,000 no matter how badly you’re hurt,” he says.
Historically, explains Rioux, in order to provide incentives for business people to undertake economically important shipping ventures, England’s parliament passed laws that limited the liability of ship owners in proportion to the tonnage of the ship. Similar limitations of liability in favour of ship owners have been incorporated into Canadian laws, like the Marine Liability Act.
“Canada’s Supreme Court decided that because commercial ships and pleasure craft both sail on Canadian inland waterways like St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes that there should be one set of rules and that the same laws that apply to commercial ships must also apply to pleasure craft,” he says.
The result of all of this, says Rioux, is that if you’re injured in a sailing accident, laws originally intended as incentives to commercial shipping end up having an effect on your case.
“The regulations that set the standard of care for determining who is liable for a boating accident are the same collision avoidance rules that apply to commercial ships. Know your collision avoidance rules and, if you are injured in a boating accident, find a lawyer who knows something about maritime law,” he adds.