California has 840 miles of coastline and more than 400 lakes open for recreation. Boating and marine activities come with unique risks, and accidents in any body of water can easily lead to serious injury or death. Even minor accidents can quickly turn into serious disasters when complicated by cold water temperatures, lack of personal flotation devices, and drowning risk.
For the last two decades, Dordulian Law Group has successfully handled both recreational boating and maritime injury claims. If you were hurt due to a boating accident in a lake, pond, river, bay, harbor, reservoir, or ocean, you may have the legal right to pursue a civil lawsuit seeking financial damages. A California maritime attorney at Dordulian Law Group can aggressively advocate on your behalf and win a monetary settlement that can help put your life back on track. Call us today at 800-880-7777 to discuss your case.
The U.S. Coast Guard lists the top five types of boating accidents as:
The majority of recreational boating accidents are not fatal. According to USA Today, from 1997 to 2015, about 700 people died in boating accidents annually. Boating accidents have numerous causes. In 2018, the Coast Guard reported the top ten primary contributing factors in recreational boating accidents across the country:
Failure to wear a life jacket is not a leading cause of accidents, but is a leading cause of fatality, contributing to 76% of boating accident deaths. 85% of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.
“Boating accident” is a broad term under the law that may refer to a collision between small watercraft, large fishing boats, or even cruise ships. The U.S. Coast Guard defines a boating accident as “whenever a death, missing person, personal injury, property damage, or total vessel loss results from the vessel’s operation, construction, seaworthiness, equipment, or machinery.” A boating accident could occur without any structural damage to a vessel, or a boat could be a total loss. Examples of scenarios that could result in a boating accident include:
According to 1 U.S. Code § 3, “the word ‘vessel’ includes every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.” The Coast Guard has determined float tubes, kiteboards, and standup paddleboards operating outside of a surfing, swimming, or bathing environment to be vessels. These determinations are important because vessel operators must follow Coast Guard Navigation Rules to avoid collisions, and are required to report boating accidents or injuries.
The United States has a long history of significant maritime accidents. Federal maritime law will apply if an accident occurs on “navigable waters.” When maritime law applies, the case must be held in federal court. The test to determine whether waters are “navigable” involves whether the particular body of water is subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, or used in interstate or international commerce. For example, Lake Tahoe is a navigable body of water. In Los Angeles, the Playa Del Rey Harbor, the Long Beach Harbor, Domingez Channel, Ballona Creek, and Alamitos Bay are all deemed navigable. Some maritime accidents in recent history include:
- On July 31, 2020, nine marines died and five were rescued when an amphibious assault vehicle sank during a training exercise off the coast of Southern California.
- On September 2, 2019, the Conception, a 75-foot dive boat, caught fire and sank off the coast of Santa Cruz Island. Five crew members survived, and 34 people died.
- On July 19, 2018, an amphibious “duck boat” sank on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri, killing 17 people. The incident was attributed to several factors, including inadequate maintenance, inadequate reserve buoyancy, and the canopy roof having prevented escape.
- On October 1, 2015, the SS El Faro, a 791-foot cargo ship, sank while traveling from Jacksonville, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico. All 33 people on board died, with no bodies ever recovered. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) attributed the sinking to the captain’s insufficient action to avoid Hurricane Joaquin.
- On October 2, 2005, the Ethan Allen, a glass-enclosed tour boat, capsized and sank on Lake George in upstate New York, killing 20 people. The NTSB investigation deemed that the boat capsized due to insufficient stability.
- On November 10, 1975, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a 729-foot freighter, took on water and sank in Lake Superior of the coast of Michigan, killing all 29 crew members.
- On July 24, 1915, the SS Eastland rolled over on her side while tied to a dock in the Chicago River, killing 844 passengers and crew members.
- On June 15, 1904, PS General Slocum, a 264-foot passenger steamboat, caught fire and sank. An estimated 1,021 died, and 321 people survived.
Maritime accidents can be very complex, often involving obscure laws dating back over a century. The September 2019 California accident involving the dive boat Conception quickly became a major civil case after 34 people tragically died. Wrongful death suits were filed promptly against boating operator Truth Aquatics Inc. In responding to the lawsuits, the company owners cited the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, which allowed shipowners to limit liability to the vessel’s value following an accident, as long as there was no evidence the owner had any knowledge of the problem that caused the accident.
When the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 was passed, the law was intended to encourage shipbuilding in America. In fact, the Titanic owners attempted to invoke the law to limit liability following the notorious 1912 sinking. However, a court decided the Titanic disaster was caused by a captain’s navigational error and not a problem that should have been known by the boat owners.
Where your accident occurs will determine how your case will be handled. If your boating accident occurred on a navigable body of water, federal law would apply, with different procedures than a personal injury claim in California. If maritime law applies, it is imperative that you choose an attorney with experience handling such cases. Some maritime laws that could apply to your case include:
Unlike a car accident, where passengers are typically able to locate a safe place off the road with relative ease, boating accidents occur on the water and include a risk of drowning. A minor boat accident can quickly turn dangerous, for example, if the boat takes on water and life vests are not available. Everyone in a party must be accounted for and have a life vest. If passengers need medical attention, or the vessel is in danger of sinking, you should immediately call for help. The U.S. Coast Guard emergency phone number for the Pacific Southwest (California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah) is 510-437-3701. If everyone is okay following a boating accident, gather all details about the incident including contact information of other parties and witnesses. Get medical care as soon as possible and report the accident as required by law.
Don’t wait to file a claim for your personal injury. Contact our top-rated, expert personal injury attorneys online or by phone today.
In California, boat owners and operators must report their accident to the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) if it meets specific criteria:
Boat accidents must be reported within specific time periods and deadlines. If the accident involves a death occurring within 24 hours of the accident, the disappearance of a person, or injury beyond first aid, the report must be submitted within 48 hours. A report must be submitted within ten days if:
Not reporting a boating accident is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to six months.
Personal watercrafts (PWCs) are often referred to by their brand names like Sea-Doos, Jet Skis, or WaveRunners. These vessels are often rented or borrowed by inexperienced operators who may be unfamiliar with throttle control and steering. PWCs can be difficult to stop because they have no reverse function, and no rudder or steering control when the engine is idle. The NTSB issued a report of PWC accidents revealing that approximately 73% involved an operator who had been riding the vessel less than one hour when the accident occurred. 84% of PWC accidents involved boat operators with no safety education or instruction. In 2016, PWCs accounted for just 10% of registered vessels in California, but were involved in 17% of all boating accidents.
The State of California has recognized that many boating accidents are preventable. On September 18, 2014, then-Governor, Jerry Brown, signed Senate Bill 941 into law. The bill prohibits operation of a motorized vessel in California without a valid operator card.
To learn more about how to obtain an operator’s card visit californiaboatercard.com
To learn more about the free online boater course visit boatus.org.
Operating a boat requires skill, knowledge, and common sense. Boaters must watch for hazards and other vessels at all times. If a boat operator’s negligence causes your injury or loved one’s loss of life, you have a case. Boating accidents can be complicated, and the question of who is operating the vessel is one of the important factors that can determine a case.
Depending on where your accident occurs, California state law or maritime law may apply. Under California law, the amount of time you have to pursue a claim falls under a two-year statute of limitations. Under federal maritime law (accidents on navigable waters), a three-year statute of limitations applies (46 U.S. Code § 30106). In any potential boating accident lawsuit, swift legal action is always advisable – when your memory is still fresh, other witnesses can be contacted, and evidence can be preserved. The extent of your injuries, as well as documentation of any necessary medical care, will be critical in determining the amount of compensation you are entitled to receive.
At Dordulian Law, we understand all too well how quickly a fun day on the lake or ocean can turn into a disaster that you wish never happened. Unfortunately, boating accidents and subsequent injuries are fairly common – and often, they occur due to someone else’s negligence or bad actions.If you were hurt as a result of a boating accident, a maritime attorney at Dordulian Law Group can aggressively advocate on your behalf to win a monetary settlement that can help put your life back on track.
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If you are injured in a boating accident due to a negligent or reckless boat operator, you may be entitled to money for your injuries and expenses including:
DLG has a 99% success rate in personal injury cases, and we have recovered more than $100 million for our clients. Our California boating accident attorneys can help you seek justice after a boating or maritime accident, at no risk or upfront cost to you. We are only paid for our services if we recover money for your claim – if we don’t win, you don’t pay. When you choose an experienced and dedicated DLG boating accident attorney, it’s really that simple.
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