Many Canadians enjoy boating in the warm climate as a recreational activity. In some waters, boating can be highly dangerous, however it entails great responsibility. Every boater is required to respect the speed limits, right of way, traffic/signal lights and signs, and be registered and licensed as a boat operator. Anyone who operates a power driven boat must prove competency. Obtaining a Pleasure Craft Operator Card by passing a provincially regulated exam is acceptable, though in many cases operators will take an accredited boating safety course as well.
The Marine Liability Act (MLA) is the main legislation dealing with the liability of ship owners and operators in Canada in relation to passengers, property damage and any pollution created. The legislation was introduced in 2001 and it was last amended in December 2014.
Like the laws relating to motor vehicle accidents, a party may pursue a personal injury claim for damages from an at-fault party, subject to starting the claim within the two year limitation period. Like in motor vehicle law, the ability of a party to receive compensation for personal injury damages from a boating accident will depend on the facts of the situation.
Section 29 of the MLA stipulates that the maximum liability for personal injury or loss of life is $1,000,000 per vessel for vessels less than 300 gross tonnage (most pleasure craft), regardless of the number of people injured and making claims. A further $500,000 may be payable in respect of any other claims, such as property damage.
Where it is proven that the damage resulted from recklessness or an act or omission done with intent to cause damage and with knowledge that such damage would likely result, the carrier (or boat owner) loses the right to limit liability. If alcohol was involved and/or the boat was used recklessly, liability for damages may be greater than $1,000,000.
Unlike cars, there is no legislated requirement for a boat owner or operator to obtain liability insurance. Because there is no mandatory boat insurance coverage, no statutory accident benefits are payable if a person gets injured; medical expenses and lost income of the injured party form part of that individual’s liability claim against the at-fault boat owner. Simultaneously, the MLA places no maximum limit on non-pecuniary damages (i.e., pain and suffering) for boating accidents.
Because boat insurance is optional in Ontario, not every boat owner takes out a separate marine policy. Because it is not mandatory, a boat owner could potentially have no insurance. If a boat owner or operator has no separate marine insurance policy and has no property insurance policy, he or she can be personally liable to a third party for at-fault damages.
Some boat owners (usually those with small vessels such as a personal water craft or small sail boat) opt to rely on basic liability and property damage coverage from their home property insurance, depending on the value of the vessel. Some boat owners purchase additional marine insurance policy coverage as an extension of their existing home insurance policy, but if a claim occurs the premiums could increase on both insurance policies as result.
Many boat owners choose a stand-alone marine insurance policy which provides dual protection including the boat itself for physical damage and for the policy owner against liability for fault. The physical damage coverage pertains to damage or loss to the boat and any equipment or machinery required to operate it such as damage from hitting a submerged rock in shallow water. The liability portion of the policy addresses the legal obligations the owner has towards any third parties who could be harmed in an accident on the boat to the extent covered. Many marine insurance policies include bodily injury and funeral expense coverage for the policy owner and some additional coverage for the spouse, relatives, and any minor under the boat owner’s care on the vessel at the time of the accident.
Insurance companies have responded to the lack of mandatory boating insurance by offering boater’s insurance to policy holders for injuries caused by uninsured vessels. Commonly, $2,000,000 is the amount of liability insurance taken for the policy holder and against third party liability. The boat owner essentially pays for liability coverage in the event that the other party is uninsured or underinsured and cannot pay personally for damages.
The MLA additionally requires that each boater have a proof of competency to operate a boat by obtaining a boating license and that each motorized boat be registered. Anyone driving a boat without a Pleasure Craft Operators Card to legally operate a motorboat in Canada risks a $250 fine and may void any insurance policy in place.
The need to be legally protected in the event of a boating accident cannot be understated. If a boating accident occurs, you will want to have the insurance policy coverage you need. Boating accidents can be serious and complex and involve legislation additional to the MLA. At Howard Yegendorf & Associates, our lawyers will determine which laws apply and affect the nature of your claim. We will advise you about your accident situation and work to ensure you get the most preferable legal outcome possible. Call our accident lawyers in Ottawa today at 1-866-303-5118.