Orange County Boat Accident Lawyers
Boat operators owe you the same duty of care as drivers of automobiles and trucks. But many operators are not familiar with the rules and regulations that govern inland and coastal waters, and alcohol plays a factor in 50% of fatal boating accidents in California.
Is an injury you sustain while out on a body of water truly an “accident”? In our experience, rarely. If reasonable steps could have been taken to prevent the injury, and the person who knew better did not take them, you have a case of negligence. By law, “No person shall operate any vessel or manipulate any water skis, aquaplane or similar device in a reckless or negligent manner so as to endanger the life, limb or property of any person.”
At Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie, we are here to help people who were injured in an event that was not their fault. Whether you were visiting Orange County or live here, your injuries are more serious than a simple week of recovery. Your life has been disrupted, and you want fair compensation with minimal fuss. We will treat you with dignity and see what we can do to answer your questions and help you recover fully. Call (949) 752-7474 or contact us online to set up a free case evaluation today.
By itself, Newport Harbor sees almost half of all boating incidents in Southern California. Orange County, though small, recorded the most accidents of any county in California in 2016. Most occur in July, on the weekends, and in the afternoon. We see them in Dana Point Harbor, Huntington Harbor, Sunset Harbor, and of course, in the Pacific Ocean.
At Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie, we have represented people who suffered injuries while being pulled by a boat because the driver negligently steered too close to other watercraft, causing victims to be thrown into the side of the boat. We represented passengers of a boat who were injured when the boat hit a large swell, throwing them into the air, after the driver ignored the Coast Guard’s warnings to stay out of the water. Some other situations we’ve seen include:
- A boat colliding with another boat.
- A boat colliding with a fixed, submerged, or floating object.
- A boat flooding or being “swamped” by waves.
- A boat sinking or capsizing.
- Passengers falling overboard or being forcibly ejected from the boat.
- Passengers falling inside the boat, making hard contact with the surface of the boat.
- A boat catching fire or exploding.
- A person in the water being sucked into a motor/propeller.
- A person in the water being struck by a boat.
One of our clients experienced a major hip injury and a head injury when the driver of the boat that was towing her on an inflatable tube rammed another boat. We settled the case with the Automobile Club for policy limits of $300,000.
Human error accounts for most of the injuries people suffer while boating. In order, these are the top reasons for California boating accidents:
- Operator inattention
- Operator inexperience
- Excessive speeding
- Machinery failure
- Passenger/skier behavior
- Dangerous waters
- Off-throttle steering
- Restricted vision
- No proper lookout
- Ignition of spilled fuel or vapor
- Improper anchoring
- Sharp turn
- Improper loading
- Failure to vent
Open motorboats, cabin motorboats, and personal watercraft represented a majority of the incidents. Most occurred while the vessel was cruising or trying to dock.
Any mistake made on a boat can quickly become fatal. Boat operators have a responsibility to their passengers, as well as every other vessel and person on the water. The greatest risks of a boating accident in Orange County include:
- Drowning or near-drowning: A clear danger of falling overboard, especially in choppy conditions, drowning may be prevented by the use of a life preserver, but not always. Some personal flotation devices are specifically designed to turn an unconscious wearer right-side-up in the water. Others are not. Even if you survive submersion in the water, you may suffer brain damage due to oxygen deprivation.
- Trauma: Whether from striking an object or being struck by one, slipping and falling on the vessel, getting a laceration from underwater hazards or a propeller, any kind of physical trauma at sea can break bones, herniate discs, cause brain damage, and develop infections.
- Carbon monoxide: Boats produce carbon monoxide (CO), a deadly gas, through their exhaust systems while the motor is running or idling. Since the symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the symptoms of too much alcohol, motion sickness from the water, or exhaustion, many operators fail to notice when a passenger is suffering and do not get them help before it’s too late.
- Hypothermia: Cold water is the cause of many boating-related fatalities in California, especially in the ocean. The danger increases as the water temperature decreases below your normal body temperature. Unless the person is a trained cold-water competitor, he or she will experience cold-water shock within one minute in frigid water, and lose muscle control within 10 minutes.
- Electric shock: Especially for swimmers, electrical discharge is a threat on and around the boat. A shock can cause burns, unconsciousness, or heart attack. On a regular basis, the boat owner is required to have his boat’s electrical system inspected and upgraded by a certified marine electrician to be sure it meets the required codes for the harbor.
No matter how the accident happened, a quick response is vital. Little incidents can be made much worse when a boat operator panics. That’s why people who choose to operate boats have so many regulations to follow, by both law and custom.
Everyone who wishes to operate a motorized vessel, with the exception of short-term rentals, must take a boater safety course and hold a California Boater Card. The legislation was passed in 2014 and is still being phased in. The exception is a person under the direct supervision of another who is 18 years of age or older, and who has a California Boater Card.
Boat owners have additional responsibilities as well. They must maintain their vessels—including their electrical systems and ventilation systems—and keep life-saving equipment aboard. They must educate their passengers and enforce the rules. They must load the boat evenly to distribute the weight. They must not drink alcohol while driving, as they can be charged with DUI. They are also required to have specific equipment for motorboats: a fire extinguisher, ventilation system, a sound signaling device, visual distress signals (on coastal waters), and navigation lights.
They must have Coast Guard-approved lifejackets, in age-appropriate sizes, easily accessible for every passenger. Every child under 13 must be wearing a lifejacket, unless in an enclosed cabin, on a sailboat with a harness, or on a vessel engaged in an emergency rescue situation. Otherwise, the vessel cannot be moving. It’s the boat owner’s responsibility to ensure children are following the law.
They must follow speed limits, such as that the maximum speed for motorboats within 100 feet of a swimmer is 5 miles per hour; within 200 feet of a bathing beach, swimming float, diving platform, or dock is also 5 miles per hour. There is also a uniform state waterways marking system, and it is the responsibility of the boat’s operator to be aware of it and abide by it. These “rules of the road” are for both inland and coastal waters.
Also, there’s common sense. The boat’s operator should realize that when there are people in the water, he should approach them at an oblique angle, so they are always in view. When people are climbing aboard, the motor should be turned off, or put in neutral.
When a boating accident occurs, the injured party has the same right to seek financial compensation as a passenger in a motor vehicle on land – if the boat’s owner or operator was negligent, you have a case.
Many boat owners have separate insurance policies that cover their passengers out on the water, or your injuries may be covered under other types of insurance policies. You always have the option to file a lawsuit directly against the person at fault, if they were to blame and didn’t bother to get insurance. It is important to have our OC personal injury attorneys investigate any and all forms of coverage for your injuries as soon as possible.
What compensation can you recover? That depends on your injury, how it affected your ability to work and enjoy daily activities, and more. You could receive money for:
- Ambulance/airlift costs
- Hospital stay
- Doctors’ bills
- Rehabilitation bills
- Prescription drugs
- And more
We will also ask the at-fault party to pay for your lost wages, loss of ability to earn wages, and pain and suffering. There is also potential for punitive damages, if alcohol or criminal charges are involved. The statute of limitations to file a claim is generally two years, but if the accident took place farther offshore, the Jones Act could be involved, and there would be a three-year statute of limitations. This part of the law is complicated; please talk to us for more details.
If you’ve been injured, or lost a loved one in an accident as a result of someone else’s negligence in Orange County, we urge you to contact us immediately. Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie has won hundreds of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for clients. We offer a free consultation, with no time limit. Call (949) 752-7474 today.
- The ABCs of California Boating
- 2016 California Recreational Boating Accident Statistics
- 2016 California Recreational Boating Accident General Statistics for Southern California
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