In Alabama, as in most states, the law that controls a claim for compensation for injuries will differ significantly depending on whether a person is injured on land or on water. Most claims for injury on land are based on the theory of common law negligence or the failure to exercise reasonable care. Although some claims for injuries on a waterway may be based on negligence, in many instances they are controlled by specific statutes that comprise admiralty law.
There are several key differences between a person’s rights in a common law negligence case and an admiralty law case. For instance, under the common law, Alabama applies the doctrine of contributory negligence, meaning that if you contribute to the cause of an injury, no matter how slightly, you are barred from any recovery. Comparative negligence applies in Admiralty law cases so fault is apportioned between the parties. If one person is 10% at-fault, they can still recover 90% of the damages they suffered. It is also significantly more difficult to bring a wrongful death action under admiralty law versus common law. Another key difference between a motor vehicle collision under common law and a boat collision under admiralty law is that “guest statutes” such as the Alabama Guest Statute have been found not to apply. In addition, common law motor vehicle injury cases in Alabama are governed by a two year statute of limitations, while an Admiralty boat collision case would have a three year statute of limitations in which to file a lawsuit.
Although Alabama has adopted a Mandatory Automobile Liability Insurance Act, there is no requirement that an operator of a boat have liability insurance. A person with a boating license may operate a watercraft at 12 years old so long as they are supervised by a person over 21 years old. A 14 year old person with a license can operate a watercraft unsupervised.