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When does federal law apply to recreational boating accidents?

Boating is a popular recreational activity in Louisiana, both in state waterways and off the state shores in the Gulf of Mexico. However, just like people can drive recklessly or negligently, people can operate a boat recklessly or negligently. For example, a boater may be speeding, intoxicated or distracted, leading to a recreational boating accident. While many people understand that car accidents can lead to personal injury lawsuits brought under state law, they may be surprised to hear that sometimes boating accidents fall under federal maritime law.

For a lawsuit based on a recreational boating accident to be filed under federal maritime law, rather than state personal injury law, the incident must meet both a "locality" test as well as a two-prong "nexus" test. Part of this test is determining whether the injury took place on "navigable waterways."

Navigable waterways, per federal law, are those that are subjected to the tide's natural ebb and flow or waterways that are used, were previously used, or could be used to transport interstate or foreign commerce. If the incident at issue took place on navigable waterways, as defined by federal law, it may satisfy this element.

Boating is fun, but it is also dangerous. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, in 2015 over 4,100 boating accidents occurred, killing 626 individuals and injuring more than 2,600. When a person is injured in a recreational boating accident, they will likely want to hold the responsible party accountable. However, determining whether such a lawsuit falls under state personal injury law or federal maritime law is very complex, and something that most people do not have much experience with. It is important to ensure you seek the help necessary to understand whether state law or federal law applies to your case before proceeding.

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