Boating accident legal issues explained by San Fernando Valley personal injury attorney, George Aldrich:

boat accident, water ski accident, Clear Lake CA

Though operation of a boat does not require an operator’s license, like you would need to operate a car, boating operation laws mirror many laws for operating a wheeled motor vehicle.  According to the California DMV. “California doesn’t require you to have a boater license in order to operate a boat.  However, children are restricted from operating some boats alone.”  Simply put, anyone can operate a boat, even young children, as long as a responsible adult is present.

Boat Injury Scenarios from the Perspective of A Personal Injury Attorney

Growing up on the lake, a favorite pastime of my friends and I was to take the neighbor’s boat to the lake and water ski all day. Typically, it would be a family event for the neighbor and all the neighborhood kids would be invited. We would launch the boat from Lucerne and go all over the lake. Sometimes the kids would drive but, most times it would be the neighbor’s dad. One constant, though, was the safety of the people behind the boat, and the safety of other boaters also on the water.  As summer time fast approaches, many people will be driving down to the lake, their boats and jet skis on trailers behind them. When they get on the water they will want to spend the day eating, drinking, skiing and enjoying the water and fun that is associated with it.

There are many issues that boat and jet ski operators, including tourists coming to the lake for summer vacation, bring with them as follows:

  1. Many people, including tourists, are simply unaware of how to operate a boat safely for the other people on the water.  One constant that we were always aware of were people cutting our line while we were on water skis.  People would come to close to the skier, or the person they were pulling would do the same.  Most times we would ski at a relatively slow pace of 25 to 30 miles per hour.  If a rope hit us, or was tangled a significant, if not catastrophic injury could occur.
  2. Lack of awareness of other boaters for people on the water.  I was not a good skier.  I spent more time floating in the water waiting for the boat to either pick me up, or bring the rope back to me.  Usually the only part of me that was visible was the shoulders of my life jacket and my head. More than once the people in my boat, and myself would have to scream at some inattentive boat operator who either did not see me, or for other reasons would come to close to where I was.  You don’t have to explain the danger to the person in the water that this presents.  Being struck by a boat will maim or kill a person in any number of ways including, most significantly, being struck by the boat or propeller, which can cause life threatening head trauma or lacerations.
  3. The lake residents and tourists alike who choose to bring coolers full of beer and booze onto the boat or consume alcohol and operate watercraft present serious dangers. Everybody likes to enjoy a few beers on a hot day.  As I got older I also would do this as well. For me, sitting on the lake, drinking a cold one, was a favorite pastime but, just like when I was on land, we always had someone operating the boat who was not drinking.  Though, anyone can operate a boat, operating a boat while intoxicated offers the same criminal punishment as driving under the influence.  In pertinent part, California Vehicle Code §23152 (a) states that “It is unlawful for any person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug,…to drive a vehicle”; §23152(b) states, “it is unlawful for any person who has 0.08 percent or more of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.”. Per the California Vehicle Code §415, “a ‘motor vehicle’ is a vehicle that is self propelled.  This means that on the water, even if your underage and not licensed to drive a car or wheeled vehicle, you can be prosecuted for operating a motorboat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  Drunk or high boat operators (both over and under the age of 21) cause dangers for people on the water, including people water skiing, people swimming off of their boats, and any persons engaging in other water sports.  When they do, they are held to the same standards as if they were on the land. The person injured can seek compensation for their injuries through the boat owner and/or operator.  Furthermore, if the owner is fully aware that intoxicated persons are operating their boat, they can be held civilly liable for negligent entrustment of their “vehicle”.

Boating Insurance Claims for Personal Injury

Unfortunately, there is no standard in California for boat owners to have an insurance policy on their boat. Having said this, there are two types of typical boating insurance policies. One, is a direct policy for the boat itself, the second is coverage under the watercraft owner’s homeowners policy. If a person is injured by a boater, these are the two typical avenues to seek recovery.  If neither policy applies to the boat owner, an injured person can seek the assets of the boat owner to recover for their injuries.

The Need for An Experienced Boat Accident Attorney

When a boat owner causes an injury, that injured party needs to seek an attorney immediately.  Delaying the consultation and retention of a lawyer can severely limit a person’s ability to claim full and complete compensation for all injuries sustained.  Providing information and “recorded statements” to insurance claims representatives without proper legal advice can prejudice the value of a cause of action and sometimes even cause a claim to be denied outright.  A quality injury attorney can conduct all the proper investigation, establish liability, and track down insurance coverage and properly present the claim in a way that maximizes the value to the injured party.

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