Colorado Boating Accident Laws & Lawsuits

A Colorado boat accident can result in serious injury, or even death. When this happens, the victim or victims can file a personal injury lawsuit for damages, such as:

Who Can Be Sued

After an accident on a boat, there are different parties that may be appropriate to file a lawsuit against, such as but not limited to:

  • the operator of the boat;
  • passengers;
  • the boat owner;
  • the manufacturer;
  • other boat operators (or other watercraft operators);
  • lifeguards; or
  • anyone else involved in the accident.

Company Liability

When a business operates a boat or other watercraft, it should be responsible for operating the vehicle and hiring employees who safely handle it.

The doctrine of respondeat superior allows victims to file a lawsuit against the employer of employees who caused harm.

Suing a Manufacturer

If a person was harmed by a boat because it was built or designed incorrectly, a products liability lawsuit can be initiated against the businesses responsible.

Defective parts, equipment, or other issues which are unreasonably dangerous can result in a successful lawsuit against the manufacturer.

Below, our Colorado personal injury attorneys address frequently asked questions about boating accidents in personal injury lawsuits and the injuries you may have suffered:

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A Colorado boat accident can result in serious injury, or even death.

1. Can I file a personal injury lawsuit after a boating accident?

Boats can be extremely dangerous vehicles and can cause serious injuries or even death. Under Colorado's negligence laws:

  • a person injured as the result of a boating accident
  • can file a personal injury lawsuit
  • against any responsible parties.1

2. What types of damages can I win in a boating accident lawsuit?

The damages an injured party can obtain in a boating accident are the same as those in almost any other personal injury lawsuit.

A person can obtain compensatory damages that include both economic and noneconomic damages.

2.1 What are economic damages?

Economic damages include:

  • financial loss;
  • property damage;
  • medical bills;
  • lost income;
  • loss of earning capacity;
  • future medical bills;
  • repair bills; and
  • rehabilitation costs.

2.2 What are noneconomic damages?

Noneconomic damages include:

  • pain and suffering;2
  • emotional distress;
  • disfigurement;
  • loss of consortium;
  • disability;
  • scarring; and
  • loss of enjoyment of life.

3. Who am I allowed to sue after a boating accident?

After a person has been involved in an accident on a boat, there are certain common parties against whom lawsuits are common:

  • the boat's operator;
  • boat passengers;
  • the owner of the craft;
  • the manufacturer of the vehicle;
  • other drivers of watercraft;
  • lifeguards on duty; or
  • anyone else involved in the accident.

3.1 What types of watercraft are commonly involved in accidents?

Due to the negligence of others, accidents in boats and other watercraft are all too common and result in serious injuries to innocent parties. Common vehicles involved in these accidents include:

  • sailboats;
  • canoes;
  • houseboats;
  • fishing boats;
  • jet skis (and other personal watercraft);
  • small or large yachts;
  • cruise ships; or
  • other watercraft.

The operator of any of the above can be responsible for any injuries caused while operating the water vehicle.

These operators owe a duty of care to those around them to act in a responsible manner. When a person violates that duty of care he or she can be held responsible for any injuries caused as a result.

4. What if I was a passenger when I was injured?

Passengers in watercraft have a right to sue the responsible party for their injuries sustained as a result of negligence or other wrongful act. Passengers may have a right to sue a private person who was operating the boat, or he or she could sue the company that owns the vehicle.

4.1 What if the accident was caused by an employee of a company?

When a company operates a boat, it is responsible for maintaining the watercraft and hiring employees who are qualified to operate it. When an employee of a company negligently operates a boat:

  • the doctrine of respondeat superior
  • applies to permit the injured party
  • to sue the employer
  • of the employee who caused the injury.3

Respondeat superior allows the injured party to sue both the individual that caused the accident and his or her employer. This is important, as the employee often does not have the funds to adequately compensate the injured person for his or her injuries.

Employers are typically better insured and are better prepared to handle a lawsuit. This is often crucial in ensuring there are funds available to compensate for an injured party's damages.

4.2 What is negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle?

Employers may also be sued for the negligent entrustment of these dangerous vehicles to unqualified personnel in certain situations.

Negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle occurs when a person allows an incompetent driver to drive his or her vehicle and that person causes harm to another person or entity.

When this occurs, the person who loaned the vehicle to the "bad driver" can be held indirectly liable for any injuries another person suffered as a result. This is referred to as vicarious liability.4

5. Can I sue the manufacturer of a defective boat or equipment?

If the accident was caused because of the builder or designer of the boat's negligence, a products liability lawsuit can be filed against the company or companies responsible. This may include accidents caused by:

  • defective parts;
  • defective equipment;
  • improper or malfunctioning safety devices; or
  • inadequate warnings as to the danger of the boat or equipment.

To prove that a product is defective, the plaintiff must establish liability against the manufacturer by showing the product is:

  • defective; and
  • unreasonably dangerous.5

6. Can the family of a loved one sue if a person drowns in an accident?

If a loved one dies as the result of a boating accident, including when a loved one drowns, the surviving family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

The purpose of this type of lawsuit is to compensate the decedent's close family members for their damages. It is not designed to compensate for the actual deceased person for damages.

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the family can seek damages to compensate the family for their loss. These economic and noneconomic damages include:

  • funeral expenses;
  • burial expenses;
  • loss of financial support the deceased would have provided; and
  • loss of service, training, and affection.6
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Call us for help...

For questions about boating accident cases in Colorado or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled Colorado personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us. For cases in California or Nevada, please see our articles on boating injury lawsuits in California and boating injury lawsuits in Nevada.

We represent clients in and around Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, and several nearby cities.


Legal References:

  1. Lopez v. Trujillo, 399 P.3d 750 (Ct. App. Div. 1 2016). (To prove a prima facie negligence claim, the plaintiff must prove: (1) the defendant owed a legal duty of care; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) the plaintiff was injured; and (4) the defendant's breach caused that injury. citing Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 325 (Colo.2004). Of these elements, duty is the threshold element.).
  2. 1C Colo. Prac., Methods of Practice 55:20 (7th Ed.) (Describing non-economic damages).
  3. Colorado Civil Jury Instructions 8:18 (Principal and Agent or Employer and Employee—Both Parties Sued—Issue as to Relationship and Scope of Authority or Employment—Acts of Agent or Employee as Acts of Principal or Employer).
  4. 47-June COLAW 46 (Negligent Entrustment of Guns and Other Dangerous Instrumentalities).
  5. Walker v. Ford Motor Co., 406 P.3d 845 (2017).
  6. CRS 13-21-202 (Action notwithstanding death).

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