Q: As a boat owner, what are my legal obligations to guests on my boat if they slip and fall?
A: If they slip because of a dangerous condition, you could be held liable under the General Maritime Law. You should be aware that maritime law has recognized the lack of non-skid paint aboard a vessel to be a dangerous condition, since it is forseeable that the walking surfaces will get wet.
In general, the owner of a pleasure boat owes guests a duty of reasonable care. People could debate what is reasonable for a given situation, as a boat is something that is arguably inherently dangerous by virtue of the fact that it rolls and pitches with the sea and is subject to its decks and surfaces becoming wet from spray. While each case could be argued on its individual facts, if a claim arose, attorneys in such settings would be likely to examine if the area where a slip and fall occurred was free of lubricants or hydraulic fluids, free of debris, free of structural defects, adequately lit, adequately safeguarded with lifelines or handrails (if applicable), among other factors.
Attorneys could also examine if another vessel was in any part responsible for the fall, possibly from causing the owner to make a forced course change or subjecting the vessel to a large wake. There are other factors that can also be considered. A person who slips and falls could possibly present a claim for injuries and medical expenses to the owner/owner’s insurance carrier if there were injuries. If that were to happen, the owner’s insurance carrier, upon being provided with notice, would likely assign a representative to examine and investigate the incident. If it is a commercial vessel, there could be additional safety and regulatory issues beyond the scope of this general response.
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