Washington State is a great place for boating. In addition to the Pacific Ocean, there are numerous rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water that make Washington a great place to live. There’s the Columbia River, the Willamette River, and Vancouver Lake, to name just a few places, and there are numerous marinas throughout the state.
In many ways, boating accidents are similar to car and truck accidents. There are rules of navigation that must be followed. Accidents for all types of vehicles are often due to speeding, operator intoxication, distracted driving, and failing to yield the right of way.
There are key differences, though. Operating a boat requires a boating license/card and a different skill set than operating vehicles on land. There are no lane markers or traffic lights. When boating accidents happen, the defendants include the boat itself. Boating accident cases may need to be brought in admiralty court. The maritime laws generally govern how boating accident claims are handled.
What are some of the common types of boating accidents?
- Boaters overboard. If a passenger or shipmate falls overboard, they may drown if they can’t swim. Even if they can swim, the cold water and fast currents may cause drowning. Survivors may suffer hypothermia, respiratory disorders, and other injuries. All boats should be equipped with life jackets to help keep anyone who falls into the water afloat until they can be rescued.
- Propeller accidents. Motorized boats with propellers are dangerous because anyone who gets near the blades can suffer an amputation, bone fractures, cuts and bruises, disfigurement, and other injuries.
- Slips and falls. The wetness of boat surfaces and the landing areas near the boats when they’re docked can easily cause someone to suffer a slip and fall accident. Slips and falls can lead to traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord damage, broken bones, and other injuries that require immediate medical attention.
- CO poisoning. Gas-powered boats produce carbon monoxide, and if it builds up, boaters can be at real risk of injury or death. Each year, people die from CO poisoning because they do not realize that it can build up on their boats, and they mistake the symptoms – nausea, headache, dizziness, vomiting, etc – for seasickness.
Anyone who suffers a boating accident has the right to file a personal injury claim. Families can file a wrongful death claim if a spouse, parent, child, or other relative dies to the negligence of the boat owner or operator. If a member of a boating company falls, the member may be required to file a Washington state workers’ compensation case. An experienced Vancouver, WA boat accident lawyer can explain which laws (federal, state, local, maritime) govern your case.
In addition to drowning, boating injuries may include:
- Broken bones
- Heat trauma
- Spinal cord damage
- Soft tissue injuries
- Lung disorders
Why do boating accidents occur?
Operators of boats of all types, shapes, and sizes owe a duty to passengers and anyone in the water near the boat – to operate the boat safely. Common types of negligent conduct that can cause accidents and injuries (or death) include:
- The captain or operator needs to comply with the appropriate maritime laws. He/she also needs to be aware of changing weather conditions. If the captain or operator is distracted (such as by talking on a smartphone), the operate can:
- Miss avoiding another boat or an object in the water
- Fail to respond to dangerous currents
- Fail to see dangerous waterfalls
- Fail to respond to many other emergencies
- Boating while intoxicated. Many boat operators think it’s OK to have a beer, a wine cooler, or some other alcoholic beverage while they operate their boat. It’s not OK. Just as drunk drivers are a danger to other drivers, drunk boat operators are a danger to everyone on their boat, on other boats, and swimmers and people in the water.
- Lack of training. Operating a boat isn’t the same as operating a car. Captains and boat operators need boating licenses and special training to operate a boat. Motorized boats are different than sailing boats which are different than many other types of boats.
- Bad weather. Sunny skies can easily turn into rain and storms. Calm skies can become windy in an instant. Boat operators need to understand how to operate their boats in extreme weather conditions.
- Overloaded boats. If boats have too much cargo or too many people, the boat can capsize, spring a leak, or just be difficult to control
- Speeding is especially dangerous to anyone in the water and any boats near the boat that is traveling too fast.
The responsibilities and dangers only increase for larger boats, boats that transport people for hire, and commercial boats. Operators of these boats need to be especially careful. The companies that hire the boats can be held liable in addition to the operator of the boat for the negligence of the boat operator.
Defective boat parts may play a role
Boating accidents may be due to defective boat equipment. The steering has to work. The propellers need to work. All the equipment needs to be in working order.
If a boat part is defective and the defect causes the accident, then the manufacturer can be held liable for any deaths or injuries that occur.
The owner of the boat should also inspect the equipment before using the boat.
Types of boats and boating accidents
Commercial boats may have accidents due to fires, equipment failure, and equipment malfunction. Workers who are employed by a boating employer may have the right to file a work injury claim through the Jones Act (the Merchant Marine Act of 1920).
Personal boats and crafts can be a lot of fun, but they can also be dangerous or deadly. For example, anyone who operates or uses jet skis should be trained in how to use them and should be extra-caution because jet ski accidents can easily occur.
Other types of boating accidents which can occur include:
- Water-skiing accidents
- Jet-skiing or wave-running accidents
- Yachting accidents
- Fishing accidents
- Accidents with pontoon boats
- Kayaking accidents
- Sailboat accidents
- Charter boat accidents
- Accidents at the docks or marinas
At Philbrook Law Office, our Vancouver and Battle Ground, Washington boating accident lawyers understand the complexities of boating accident cases, wrongful death claims, and personal injury claims. We demand compensation for all your injuries including your medical bills, the income you lose because of your injuries, and your physical pain and suffering. If death due to drowning or other causes occurs, we fight for families to obtain all the damages the law permits. If a boating accident takes the life of a loved one or you are injured in a boating accident, call our offices at 360-695-3309 or use our contact form to discuss your case.