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Articles Posted in Boating Accidents

One thing I love about my job as a New York personal injury lawyer is that I am always learning new things. A novel personal injury case walks in my door and I say, “wow, I didn’t know that could happen”!  But then I research it and find out that not only does it happen, it happens repeatedly. And it happens because someone, and not the poor injured guy, but rather a big, fat, rich company, screwed up.

Here’s a recent example:  Two young ladies are riding on a jet ski (some manufacturers call them WaveRunners or Sea-Doos).  The driver speeds up and the backseat passenger falls backward into the water. The fall into the water didn’t hurt, of course.  It’s a fairly soft landing.  And since a jet ski has no propellers, she did not get chewed up by a prop. (We have successfully represented several clients with prop injuries, one who lost her leg).  No, what happened was that the jet ski’s “jet” of water pummeled her rectum so hard it caused severe internal damage.  She almost lost her life by bleeding to death.  And her rectum was so damaged that she ended up needing to wear a coloscopy bag.

These facts stunned me.  At first I thought this was just a fluke accident, that the “jet” of the jet ski had coincidentally hit her at just a certain angle so as to be able to enter her anus and her rectum, and that it was a one-off event.  I figured at best my client had a claim against the driver of the jet ski for accelerating too quickly. I wondered whether the owner or driver of the jet ski would even have liability insurance coverage  for the accident. (Unlike for a car, New York law does not require boat insurance).

I took in yet another boating accident case the other day.  In many ways, it was a typical Finger Lakes boating accident that boating injury lawyers are bound to come across from time to time:  Unbeknownst to the boat operator who had been drinking and was on his cell phone chatting, two of his passengers went for a swim.  The boat operator then put the throttle in forward, and ran them over.  The boat operator then felt the prop of his boat “snag” on what he assumed was seaweed.   The trail of blood, and bodies, behind his boat alerted him to the real problem.

Not a pretty picture.  And not pretty injuries.  I’ll spare you the details.  But here’s what you need to know so this same thing doesn’t happen to you or your boating buddies:

  • Never drink and drive. Not in a car, not in a boat, not on a bike.  Just don’t. The rules for alcohol blood levels, and the penalties, are the same for all motorized vehicles, including boats.

Summer is fast approaching in New York’s beautiful Finger Lakes area.  And boating is a great way to enjoy the area safely during this coronavirus era. As far as I know, the virus cannot be transmitted through lake water, and as long as you are on your boat with household members, you don’t have to worry about those pesky little masks or that annoying six-foot social distancing rule.  Whether you live in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Albany, Ithaca, or any place in between, boating is a great way to get out and enjoy the treasures of our Central New York way of life!

But please do so safely, and legally.  To help you out, I have prepared a chart comparing New York’s automobile laws to its boating laws.  After that, I will discuss the differences between boating accidents and car accidents that I have discovered after nearly three decades of litigating both boating accident cases and car accident cases throughout New York State.

New York Boating Law Compared

As a finger lakes boat accident lawyer and boating enthusiast, I try to keep up on boating law developments.  Well, there’s a big development coming down the pipes:  A bill is sitting on the Governor’s desk that will require all owners and operators of motorized boats (including jet skis) to take a NY State certified boating safety course. The current law says that only those born after May 1, 1996 have to take the boating safety course.

When the proposed new law says “alloperators and owners of boats, it really does mean all, no matter how old, no matter how long they have owned or operated a boat.  Are you 93 and been boating for 73 of those years?  You still would have to take the course! The new proposed law is called “Brianna’s Law” in honor of Brianna Lieneck, an 11-year-old victim of a boating accident.  Most legal experts think the Governor will sign the bill.  If so, it will take effect on January 1, 2020.  The good news is that the course can be taken online, though it can also be taken in a classroom setting.

Yes, you read that caption right.  This personal injury lawyer wants FEWER boating accident cases.  Not because I don’t enjoy representing those injured through negligent boating (I do), but because I want there to be fewer accidents altogether.  I have enough personal injury cases.  I don’t need more and would prefer fewer cases if it meant fewer people were being injured and killed in boating accidents.

And I think I know a way to make boating much safer, and to avoid accidents.  Here me out!

But before you hear me out, here’s a little background.  I just became a first-time boat owner.  Not that I am new to boats.  I grew up around motor boats and sail boats (on Skaneateles Lake) and have been using my brothers’ motor boats for many years. I have boated on Cayuga Lake, Owasco Lake and Seneca Lake.

The photo on left is of my then 16 year-old son and me a few years ago as we were about to board the Duck Boat for a tour of Boston and its harbor. The “Duck Boat” – for those that don’t know — is a six-wheeled amphibious vehicle originally used as U.S. military landing craft during World War II, but later adapted for tourists in cities with a harbor, river or lake such as Boston, London, Philadelphia and Washington.

It was a cool ride!  We drove around B-Town, then drove right into the Harbor and kept going.  The tour guide — Duck Dude —  joked all the way through the tour while sharing useful and sometimes not-so-useful but sure-as-hell entertaining information.

But there is sad news this week for Duck Boat lovers. A Seattle Duck Boat crashed into a charter bus full of college kids. Terrible accident sending 50 people to the hospital.

Everyone knows that driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a serious crime that can land you in jail. But few people know about boating while intoxicated (BWI) laws.

When we think of boating, we think of relaxing or even partying on the water, often with a cool beer in hand. We would never even consider doing the same while driving a car!

But the popular image of boozing while boating as “acceptable” behavior does not match the current state of the law in New York State. In 2006, Albany finally woke up to the statistical fact that boating while intoxicated is just as dangerous as driving a car while intoxicated. It thus passed a law ratcheting up the criminal penalties for boating while intoxicated to match those for driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated. And the BWI blood count limit is 08%, same as for driving a car. (The legal limit for minors is .02%).

This past weekend, Memorial Day weekend, was a disappointment to many boaters in the Finger Lakes region. That’s because motor boats were banned on Keuka, Canandaigua and Honeoye Lakes. And on Seneca Lake there was a 5 mile per hour speed limit. Tough to get very far at that pace!

Rain and flash floods, which raised water levels and unleashed lots of floating debris, made the lakes dangerous to navigate with motorboats. In addition, some docks were underwater and could have been invisible hazards.

The authorities expect all lakes to be open for boating this next weekend, but local boaters ought to check the web or make some calls to make sure.

The Metro-North engineer who derailed his train last year, killing four passengers and injuring dozens more, was suffering from a sleep disorder. He slept through the accident.

The driver of the Chicago subway train that recently crashed at O’Hare International Airport told authorities she fell asleep before the train entered the station. Her train derailed and raced up an escalator, causing injury and death.

In the 2003 Staten Island Ferry crash, it was determined that the pilot lost consciousness while at the ship’s controls. He had taken the painkillers tramadol and Tylenol PM, both of which can cause drowsiness as a side effect.

A lawyer’s godda geddaway sometimes. But can you ever REALLY get away from your work?

Last week was spring break for my boys, so I took one of them, shown here with me, to Boston. (Actually, we were there to take my mother to see some specialists, but that’s another story . . .). While there, we jumped on the Boston Duck Tour. That’s an amphibious tour bus — the same bus that wheels you through the streets of Boston eventually plunges into, and then puts around in, the Boston harbor. See picture below.

As a Central New York personal injury lawyer, I see a lot of accidents, and it seems like a lot of them happen on holidays. Where others see fun I see disaster. And getting on a tour bus destined to drive into the Boston harbor was not exactly a tonic to my accident-phobia.

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