The State of North Carolina will now file felony charges against operators of boats who cause injuries while under the influence of alcohol. Legislators named the law “Sheyenne’s Law” after Concord teenager Sheyenne Marshall, who was killed on Lake Norman July 4, 2015, by a drunk boater. Lawmakers hope to deter individuals from boating under the influence of substances while providing additional restitution to victims of BUI boating accidents.
Anyone who has been injured by a vessel operator, especially one under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, may now possibly have additional civil recourse in light of the law’s harshened criminal penalties regarding such accidents.
Adding Teeth to North Carolina Boating Laws
Boating under the influence, sometimes shortened to BUI, is already recognized as a crime in North Carolina. However, many residents and out-of-town visitors disregard these laws since they think of boats differently than cars.
People who would never consider operating a car or truck after drinking do not make the same decision with boats, thinking it is not as dangerous. On the contrary, boating accidents can be severe and often fatal. 2015 saw 25 fatalities from boating accidents. Half of the incidents involved alcohol. Also, as was the case with Sheyenne’s tragic death, the majority of boating accidents happen over Fourth of July weekend, marring what should be a joyful holiday.
Under North Carolina’s new boating under the influence laws, charges increase from a Class 2 misdemeanor with a fine of $250 or higher to a felony. The exact degree of the felony will be considered on a case-by-case basis, with injuries or deaths related to the incident as a significant weighing factor.
Governor Pat McCrory signed the law on June 27, but the new penalties and categorization do not come into effect until Dec. 1.
Commenting on the law, Officer Branden Jones of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission said that the most important message here is that deciding to boat under the influence has consequences, and vessel operators are responsible for those consequences, based on their decision.
“The biggest thing is to get the awareness out there that impaired operation is a very big deal,” Jones told The Dispatch. “It is something we have seen in the past, and we are seeing a lot more of lately. … [Sheyenne’s Law] makes death or serious injury by boating a felony. It lets people know that there is a lot at risk while operating a watercraft while impaired.”
Personal Injury Cases for North Carolina Boating Accident Victims
While Sheyenne’s Law only affects criminal cases, it could potentially color the outcome of civil cases levied against individuals who harm others as a result of BUI. Personal injury or wrongful death cases may potentially be able to gain extra traction now that the state legislature and court have declared BUI injuries a much more serious, felony-level crime.
If a vessel has injured you or a family member as a result of an accident caused by an intoxicated operator, contact a North Carolina boating accident attorney as soon as possible to discuss your potential case. Call (704) 307-4350 today for a free case evaluation.