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Legal Blog

Who is at Fault in a Maritime Collision?

Determining who caused a maritime collision is quite a bit different than if you were dealing with an auto collision. The rules of the road are clear and generally known by everyone legally allowed to drive. The rules and reality of navigating water are different and less well known, which can make determining fault difficult and contentious.

If you were involved in a maritime accident, contact the Houston injury lawyers of The Krist Law Firm, P.C. at (281) 283-8500. We have decades of experience representing individuals hurt in maritime accidents, including on both personal and commercial vessels. We understand the complexities of maritime law and in assigning liability for these types of accidents. With our knowledge, experience, and access to maritime experts, we can help you recover the compensation you deserve under the law.

Determining Fault in a Maritime Collision

When determining fault for a maritime collision, your legal team and the court will use the Navigation Rules, the U.S. Coast Pilot, and any applicable regional rules or customs. The Navigation Rules provide you with both proactive obligations and prohibitions. There are maneuvers you are required to make in certain circumstances and actions you are not allowed to make in other situations. When looking to see who is at fault, a court will evaluate whether you and the other vessel were compliant with the Navigation Rules. If you or the other vessel violated one or more of the Navigation Rules, then you and/or the other party will be assigned all or some responsibility. The percentage of fault attributed to the rule violation will depend on how much that violation actually contributed to the crash and whether the rule was specifically designed to prevent collisions. If your or the other party is found to have violated a rule that is intended to prevent crashes, then you or that party will be presumed to be at fault for the collision.

The court will also investigate whether you and the other vessels were appropriately familiar with the relevant current charts and U.S. Coast Pilot. This is to see if you were knowledgeable about where you were and the maneuvers required for your vessel in those waters. If the other vessel did not have the proper charts for the area, the vessel pilot or captain to carelessly or recklessly navigate those waters, this would support their being at fault for the crash.

Negligence Can Exist Without Rule Violations

Keep in mind, you or the other vessel could be at fault for a maritime collision without violating any Navigation Rules. Safely and responsibly navigating a vessel requires appropriately responding to the weather, water conditions, and other vessels’ actions. Just because a pilot or captain may have the right-of-way or be compliant with the rules does not mean they do not have to take steps to avoid a collision. It is possible to contribute to or cause a maritime collision while technically following all of the rules. This is important as you may need to prove another vessel was negligent despite adhering to regulations.

Hiring Expert Witnesses

Following a maritime collision, multiple authorities may investigate and create reports, including local police and the Coast Guard. However, you will not want to rely entirely on these reports. They may not be as thorough as you need. Instead, you should work with a maritime lawyer who can hire experienced industry experts as witnesses. Your case will benefit from hiring a maritime expert who understands all of the Navigation Rules and the realities of maneuvering vessels at sea. This industry expert will conduct an in-depth, independent investigation to provide an objective opinion on fault. You can then submit this opinion to the court to prove the other person’s fault and your lack of responsibility.

Preserving the Physical Evidence

To determine fault in a maritime accident you will need to preserve the physical evidence. This generally means the vessels and any other property involved in the collision. You will want to make sure the other parties do not destroy or repair their property before your team is able to conduct an independent investigation. An experienced attorney can take proactive steps to call for the preservation of evidence or take the matter before a judge if evidence becomes unavailable or is discarded before it can be examined.

Understanding Comparative Fault

In some maritime collisions, one vessel is entirely at fault. If the other vessel in your situation was completely at fault, then you can pursue full compensation for all of your injuries. However, in a majority of maritime crash situations, a percentage of fault is assigned to each vessel. So long as the other vessel is more than 50 percent at fault for the collision, you will be able to pursue compensation. However, your financial recovery will be reduced by your own amount of fault. For example, if the other party was 75 percent at fault and you were 25 percent responsible, you will recover only 75 percent of your damages.

Contact Our Houston Maritime Injury Lawyers

If you were injured in a maritime accident, do not hesitate to reach out for legal help. At The Krist Law Firm, P.C., our legal team has decades of collective experience in helping those who have suffered injuries in maritime collisions pursue compensation.

Contact us online or call (281) 283-8500 to schedule an initial case consultation.