Ferry Boat Accidents

Ferry boats are a means for many commuters living near water to get to work each day. It beats sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic and can be an exhilarating way to begin and end each day. The Bureau of Transportation and Statistics estimates that more than 100 million passengers are transported by ferry each year.

Similar to travel on land, the weather plays a part in determining relative safety of travel. Rough weather and storms negatively impact both forms of travel. However, when it comes to travel on water, the danger is escalated. While traveling in a ship on open waters, rain and storms can cause limited visibility that can interfere with navigation. Crashing waves may impair steering capabilities. An accident on open water is particularly treacherous because many of the more serious accidents also pose a need for a water rescue to prevent drowning.

Causes of Ferry Boat Accidents

Causes of ferry accidents fall broadly into two categories. Namely, those within the control of the ship operator and those outside that control. Failure of the ship operator can include the following actions:

  • Misjudging weather conditions
  • Carrying too many passengers
  • Storing cargo improperly

Other actions by ship operator(s) reflect conduct that is reckless or careless. Examples include operating:

  • At excessive speeds
  • In violation of navigational rules
  • Beyond existing skill set (inexperience)
  • While impaired from use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • While so tired as to fall asleep

Other situations that can cause a ferry boat accident relate to the seaworthiness of the vessel. These may be outside of the ferry boat operator’s control and include:

  • Improper or inadequate safety equipment or measures
  • Inadequate or improper ship maintenance
  • Insufficient manpower
  • Mechanical failure

There may be some factors that are both beyond the control of the operator and unrelated to the condition of the ship. These include unanticipated inclement weather and reckless operation of nearby ships. These factors could influence the outcome of a case against a ship owner or operator depending on the circumstances.

The body of law commonly referred to as Maritime Law or Admiralty Law provides protections to those injured on navigable waters. Whether and how they can recover from injury (or their survivors can recover for a wrongful death) depends on determining the cause of the accident and the relationship between the injured person and the ship operator and ship owner (these are not always the same).

Negligent Operation

General Maritime Law provides recourse for injuries (or death) involving passengers and/or bystanders. Ferry boat passengers can recover for accidents they experience on the boat. These cases involve determining who was responsible, in whole or part, for causing the injury or death. Proof of negligence is required. In these cases, comparative negligence is usually used to determine the extent of fault assigned to various parties.

These cases can be based on a ship operator’s negligence as in the examples of reckless or careless actions or failures listed above. Alternatively, a ship owner may be negligent in providing a safe ship. Generally, proving a negligence case involves proving that a duty to the passenger (or bystander) was breached and this breach was the proximate cause of injury.

The duty owed is to meet the standard of taking “reasonable care under the circumstances.” This is a case-by-case analysis. Proof of negligence involves showing that the ferry boat owner or operator knew of the condition that caused the injury. An exception to this is if the condition was inherently unsafe or was foreseeably hazardous.

There may be mitigating factors. Misconduct by ship operators in the vicinity could be in part responsible for the accident. This could serve to reduce the degree of liability of the ferry boat owner and/or operator. In these cases, a passenger may have recourse against the other ship’s operator(s).

Worker Protections

Maritime Law requires a ship owner to provide its workers a seaworthy ship. Maritime workers have additional recourse under the Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. If injured, the workers can recover for “maintenance and cure” which is similar to workers’ compensation provided to non-maritime workers. Both maintenance and cure and seaworthiness claims operate under a theory of strict liability. The injured party does not need to prove negligence on the part of the ship owner or employer to prevail.

South Jersey Maritime Accident Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Obtain Compensation for Those Injured in Ferry Boat Accidents

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a ferry boat or other maritime accident, contact an experienced Philadelphia maritime accident lawyer at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. for help pursuing a claim. Call 888-999-1962 or submit an online contact form to schedule a free consultation. Our offices in Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, New Jersey serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and South Jersey, including the areas of Cape May, Gloucester, and Wildwood. We also have offices in Pinehurst, North Carolina.