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Serious Boating Accidents: Liability for Others Using One's Boat

May 10, 2011

Summer is almost here and many people are getting ready to enjoy their boat. A boat can be great source of fun and recreation whether wakeboarding or fishing. However, a fun afternoon out on the water can quickly turn into a fatal boating accident.

The Family Purpose Doctrine in Georgia applies to both automobiles and boats. The doctrine states that when an owner of a vehicle maintains the vehicle for the use and convenience of his family, that owner may be held liable for the negligence of a family member who was using the vehicle for a family purpose. For example, a son takes the family boat out over the weekend while they are at the lake. The son hits another boat and severely injures the people on that boat. The father and owner of the boat can be held liable for his son's accident.

There are five elements to the Family Purpose Doctrine that need to be proved when a victim sues an owner of a boat for negligence:

  • The person being sued owns or has an interest in or control over the boat that was negligently driven.
  • The driver of the boat who was negligent is a family member (i.e. spouse, adult, or minor child, sibling, etc.) who lives in the household of the owner.
  • The owner loaned or provided the vehicle to a family member for the "pleasure, comfort or convenience" of that family member.
  • The owner gave the borrower permission or consent to use the boat for a "family purpose" at the time of the accident.
  • There was sufficient authority or control over the use of the boat such that there is no doubt that a relationship existed between the owner and the borrower.

Another way that a Georgia boat owner can be held liable for an accident caused by another person operating his or her boat is under the doctrine of negligent entrustment. A boat owner may be liable for negligent entrustment where the owner loans a boat to someone who is incompetent due to age, experience, physical and/or mental condition or has a known habit of recklessness. If the person who uses the boat causes an accident because of this inexperience, incompetence or recklessness, the boat owner may be liable for any serious injuries or wrongful death.

By way of example, a boat owner allows his intoxicated brother to take the boat out on the lake knowing that the brother was intoxicated. If the brother then gets in a serious boating accident and injures innocent people, the boat owner can be liable for entrusting the boat to someone who was not in a position to operate the boat safely.

Georgia also imposes statutory vicarious liability on boat owners under O.C.G.A. § 51-1-22 that is even broader than under the family use doctrine. The statute permits liability to be imposed on a boat owner for injuries caused by the negligence of anyone to anyone to whom the owner lends his or her boat as long as there is express or implied consent. If a family member is using the boat under the statute, knowledge and consent is implied. This boating statute imposes very broad liability on boat owners.

A boat can be just as dangerous as driving a car on public highways. People who are driving boats are often on vacation and take a more relaxed approach to operating a boat. Many people who would never drink and drive routinely drink when boating. Boat owners also sometimes underestimate the potential danger of a serious boating accident because the amount of traffic and congestion is not as serious as on Georgia roadways.

All of these conditions can add up to the potential for fatal boating accidents. When the inexperience of some boat operators is added to this dangerous mix, the results are often tragic. Boat owners need to be very careful who they allow to drive their boat. Each boating season some negligent boat owners and operators are responsible for avoidable accidents on our waterways in Georgia. If you have been injured in a boating accident, our Georgia boating accident lawyers are available to evaluate your case.

Our law firm handles all types of boating accidents throughout all of the waterways and lakes of Georgia including Lake Lanier, Lake Oconee, Lake Sinclair and Lake Tobesofkee, as well as on the intracoastal waterways and offshore. Our Georgia boating accident attorneys handle accidents involving speedboats, pontoon boats, jet skis, personal watercrafts, express cruisers, cabin cruisers and every other type of boat. We work hard for our clients and are committed to our goal of being known as the best Georgia and Atlanta personal injury lawyers.

Our Georgia fatal boat accident lawyers are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Personal Injury

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.