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Chicago Boating Accident Lawyer

For many Chicago residents, spending a summer day out on Lake Michigan or the Chicago River is the ultimate weekend event. For others, the Chicago River represents their daily work environment. No matter the context, boat operators owe a responsibility to maintain a safe shared waterway with all other boat inhabitants. 

Chicago Boating Accident Statistics

With Chicago being the largest municipal harbor system in the United States with close to 5,100 slips and moorings, it’s no surprise that accidents are a likely result among the 100,000 registered boaters in Illinois. (Chicago Police Department). Thankfully boating accident casualties have been relatively low throughout Illinois with only 21 deaths across the state in 2020, leaving the fatality rate at 6.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. Still, this rate represents a 25% increase from 2019. (National Law Review). Additionally, the Coast Guard has found that boating activity has only increased as a result of the pandemic, evidenced by increased: boat sales, insurance policies taken out, insurance claims, and towing assistance claims. (U.S. Coast Guard 2020 Recreational Boating Statistics).  

As a nation, in the calendar year 2020, the Coast Guard counted 5,265 accidents that involved 767 deaths, 3,191 injuries, and approximately $62.5 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents. (U.S. Coast Guard 2020 Recreational Boating Statistics). So although Illinois’s annual boating accident casualties are statistically lower than the national average, those injured and killed in boating accidents are more than numbers, and are individual people who have family and loved ones left behind. Tragically, many boating accidents and their resulting injuries and damages are preventable. Of the 21 Illinois fatalities in 2020, seven of those fatalities involved a driver impaired by alcohol and drugs, fifteen of those fatalities included individuals who would have survived if they had worn life jackets, and twenty of those fatalities happened under the operation of a boat owner with no formal boat safety education.

Boat downtown Chicago

What are the common causes of boat accidents in Illinois?

Luckily, preventative measures can be taken moving forward by boat operators to prevent the five primary contributing factors of accidents: 

  1. Operator inattention
  2. Operator inexperience
  3. Improper lookout
  4. Excessive speed
  5. Machinery failure

Some interventions include: proper safety and operational training for boat owners, the use of lifejackets, remaining seated while boats are moving to prevent falling overboard, using appropriate speeds while driving the boats, operating boats without drug or alcohol use, and proper supervision of children while operating boats. (National Law Review). We can all do our part to ensure a safe environment for those who share the Illinois waterways whether it’s for leisure, transportation, or work purposes. 

Most Illinois boating accidents occur as a result of negligence on the part of the driver, whether that was caused by intoxication, distraction, or inexperience. Injured parties to such accidents may be able to bring a negligence claim and recover financially for their injuries. If your family member dies in a boating accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses as well. The Jones Act of 1920 is one such statutory legal course of action that could provide compensatory damages.

Boat in downtown Chicago river

The Jones Act of 1920

The Jones Act of 1920, also called the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal law that created a cause of action to recover damages covered under the standard of negligence under the Act, for mariners or seamen injured or killed in the course of their employment. Congress enacted the Jones Act with the legislative purpose to protect individuals who are members of a ship or vessel crew. The Act was intentionally broad, however, in order to cover victims of accidents involving recreational passengers in a vessel, as well as those who conduct their work on vessels. Coverage of the Act involves inland river workers, offshore workers on rigs, barges, drill ships, tug/towboats, crew boats, drill ships, dredges, floating cranes, tanners, cargo ships, fishing vessels, chemical ships, research vessels, construction barges, lay barges, motorized platforms, diving vessels, cruise ships, recreational boats, or any other floating/movable structures. 

In order for a plaintiff to recover under the Jones Act, elements of negligence or fault on the part of the vessel’s owners, operators, officers, and/or fellow employees by reason of some defect in the vessel or its equipment must be proven. The Jones Act has been a significant source of legislation for the umbrella protection it offers injured seaman and boaters against negligent employers.  

The Jones Act can be brought in a lawsuit when an individual working on a vessel is injured while working within the scope of their employment, in which case the injured party’s employer will be responsible for paying the injured party’s medical bills (called cure), and a daily allowance (called maintenance) during the time the injured party remains unable to work due to the injury. Additionally, a lawsuit involving the Jones Act can be brought against an employer if that employer was negligent, or if the vessel itself was unfit for its intended purpose at the time the injury took place. In such a lawsuit, the Jones Act allows a plaintiff to seek past and future economic loss, pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, loss of capacity to enjoy life, loss of the ability to perform household services and take care of yourself, as well as recovery for other damages under maritime law.

Chicago boats at sunset

Contact the Chicago Boating Accident Lawyers at Levin & Perconti

Levin & Perconti is proud to hold one previous record, as well as the current record for the highest settlement ever obtained in a Cook County Jones Act lawsuit. The previous Jones Act settlement was obtained by Levin & Perconti, recovering a record $4.5 million dollars in a case where a deckhand had lost his leg due to employer negligence in an accident on the Chicago River. The current Jones Act record settlement is a $7.5 million dollar award won in a case involving a 37-year-old man who sustained serious neck and spinal cord injuries in an Illinois boat explosion. This current record has surpassed Levin & Perconti’s own previous Jones Act record settlement that was previously set in 2007.  

Our injury lawyers at Levin & Perconti have proudly represented victims of personal injury for over 20 years and may be able to help you seek justice for the harm caused to you or your loved ones. Call us at 312-332-2872 or contact us through our free online case evaluation form and an attorney will call you back at your convenience. 



for an 8-year-old girl who was struck by a boat, partially severing her foot and leaving her permanently disfigured with ongoing emotional and physical pain. The boat driver negligently failed to keep a lookout and maintain a safe speed.

Works Cited

“Chicago Jones Act Lawyer: Levin & Perconti.” Levin & Perconti, 6 July 2022,

“In the News March 18, 2008 Volume: 154 Issue: 54 In Circuit Court .” Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, 18 Mar. 2008,

“US Coast Guard – Recreational Boating Statistics.” 2020 Recreational Boating Statistics,

“Workplace Accident Verdicts & Settlements.” Levin & Perconti, 18 July 2022,