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Articles Posted in Boating Accidents

Two recent tragic New York boating accidents have me blogging about boating safety again.

First, a cabin cruiser carrying 27 passengers capsized off Long Island on July 4th, killing three children. The boat, traveling in darkness, was carrying an extended family from watching a fireworks display near Oyster Bay. On the trip home, another boat’s wake apparently hit it, causing it to suddenly flip. Some witnesses from other boats say the boat took a sharp left turn before it flipped, so the steering might have been a cause, too.

But the boat may also have been overloaded. The problem with boats this size is that they usually don’t have any signage indicating a passenger limit. There is a general rule of thumb, though, for figuring out how many passengers a boat can handle: multiply the boat’s length by its width and divide by 15. It is not yet clear whether this boat was “overloaded” by that calculation, but 27 people on this 36-foot boat does seem excessive.

It’s looking like a gorgeous Memorial Day weekend in New York’s beautiful Finger Lakes. The Finger Lakes are my home. I live on Seneca Lake, my office is near Owasco Lake, and my family has a cottage (“camp” as it is known locally) on Skaneateles Lake. These lakes, together with the other 8 Finger Lakes — Otisco Lake, Cayuga Lake, Keuka Lake, Canandaigua Lake, Honeoye Lake, Canadice Lake, Hemlock Lake, and Conesus Lake – form a natural water-bejeweled necklace.

Admiring the lakes from the shore is one thing, but many of us Finger-Lakers like to get out ON them. Unfortunately, every year I have an opportunity to blog about a serious, or fatal, boating accident on one of the Finger Lakes (see the blog links below this article). And sometimes my personal injury law firm ends up representing injured boaters in lawsuits against boat operators and others who cause boating accidents.

Almost every boating accident I have seen has been avoidable. But don’t worry – I am not going to lecture you about boating safety rules (like checking the weather forecast, maintaining a safe speed, designating an assistant skipper, avoiding alcohol if you are operating the boat, taking a boating course, checking your vessel for safety). Oops, I just did lecture you!

In a blog post earlier this week, I talked about last Saturday’s Seneca Lake boat accident that killed the owner of the Glen Harbor Marina and injured the Marina’s head mechanic. More recent news reports now indicate that the accident may have been caused by a defective steering system in the high-speed boat.

If in fact the steering system was at fault, the family of the deceased boating accident victim, along with the injured survivor, may both have a New York products liability (defective products) case against the manufacturer of the boat for marketing and selling a boat with a defectively designed or manufactured steering system.

The two men were test driving the high-speed boat when, according to the survivor (the Marina’s mechanic), the steering, on its own, started malfunctioning, causing a sharp turn that threw the two into the water.

Tragedy struck Seneca Lake this Labor Day weekend. A fatal boating accident happened near Juniper Point in Yates County near the town of Starkey. Two men, one the owner of nearby Glen Harbor Marina, took a high-speed “cigar” style boat owned by the Marina out for a test drive. As the boat was traveling at about 80 miles per hour, the driver apparently took a sharp turn that sent both men flying overboard into the rough water. The boat continued to circle at a high rate of speed with no men on board. One of the men, apparently the driver, who was wearing a life jacket, was rescued by witnesses and suffered a broken sternum, but the body of the other, the owner of the marina, was not found until Sunday by using remote control vehicles. He was not wearing a life jacket.

In another accident, a canoe capsized in the middle of Seneca Lake where it is three- miles wide. One of the canoists was wearing a life jacket. albeit somewhat small for him, and was able to float by the canoe and await help, but the other, who had no life jacket, was forced to swim all the way to the shore in the rough water. Fortunately, he made it and avoided tragedy.

New York State boating law does not require boaters to actually wear their life jackets — it only requires there to be a life jacket in the boat for all boaters. But as a Finger Lakes boating accident lawyer , I can tell you from experience that actually wearing your life jacket is a very good idea. As these two accidents demonstrate, it is an especially good idea to put your life jacket on under obviously more dangerous circumstances, such as when traveling at night or at high speeds, when taking sharp turns, when an inexperienced boat operator is driving, on rough water, or in a small unstable vessel. Remember that even if you are an excellent swimmer, you may be rendered unconscious if you are ejected by a sharp turn, or by a collision with debris, other objects or other boats.

This Central New York Boating season (one of the best in recent history!) is drawing to an end, but not without more Central New York boating accidents. The most recent Central New York boat crash involved three boaters who were injured when their boat crashed into the Oswego Harbor breakwater, near the Oswego Lighthouse Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Although the damage done to the boat and to the wall indicates a high rate of speed, miraculously the worst injury appears to be a broken arm. All three boaters were taken to Oswego Hospital.

Police investigators believe alcohol consumption played a role in the crash. From my experience as a New York boating accident lawyer, I can tell you this is not unusual. Statistics bear me out: U.S. Coast Guard records indicate that MOST recreational boating fatalities involve alcohol! The same statistics indicate that a boat operator with blood alcohol level above .10 is ten times more likely to be killed in a boating accident than a boater who has consumed no alcohol. Experts say that the mixture of sun, wind, boat motion, wind and noise amplifies the effects of alcohol. To make matters worse, for some reason people who would never drink while driving a car feel it is perfectly fine to drink, and even drink heavily, while boating.

Boating deaths are second only to car accident deaths in transportation-related fatalities in the United States. More people die in boating accidents than die in airplane, train wrecks, or bus accidents.

My hometown paper, the Geneva Finger Lakes Times, reports today on a boating accident that happened in Seneca Lake this past weekend. A 16-year-old Penn Yan girl was out on the Lake tubing when her hands got entangled in the ski rope that tethered the tube to the back of the boat. She suffered serious injuries to both hands. Surgeons at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester were unable to save one of her thumbs, despite several surgeries.

As the father of a teenager, I feel terrible for this kid, and her family.

You may think this accident was a “fluke”, but I don’t. Ski ropes can kill, main or severely injure, if they are not properly tied, secured or stored. Just a few years ago the Finger Lakes boating accident lawyers of Michaels & Smolak handled a case where a ski rope that was partially in the water, but mostly coiled up on the boat deck, got wound up in the boat’s propeller, caught our client’s leg, and dragged her from the boat, into the water, and into the propeller. The doctors had to amputate her leg below the knee. We were able to get her a $1.5 million dollar settlement (but the money’s never enough!) from the insurance carrier for the boat owner who had failed to properly secure the rope.

I have seen, in my Central New York personal injury law practice, too often and too close-up, horrendous boating injuries suffered because of unsafe boating practices in our otherwise-lovely Finger Lakes. That’s why I feel duty-bound to tell my readers about boating safety classes being offered FOR FREE in Cayuga County this month.

The Cayuga County Sherriff’s office has announced that it is offering 2 boater safety classes, one at the Owasco Fire House, Station 1, at 7174 Owasco Road, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 12, and the other from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 19 at the Scipio Fire House, 3550 State Route 34. Again, these safety classes are absolutely FREE, so how can you go wrong? To register, call the Sherriff’s office at 315-294-8145.

I won’t spoil the suspense of these classes, but guess what — driving a boat is NOT like driving a car! The rules are different, as are the safety concerns. Don’t just jump behind the wheel of a boat and assume you know what you are doing because you can drive a car — learn the rules and life-saving safety tips at these classes. And above all, absolutely FORCE young boaters under your control to sign up for this freebee. (Just like with cars, most boating accidents are caused by inexperienced and youthful drivers.)

At Michaels & Smolak, we are “joined at the hip” to the Finger Lakes. Our main law office is in Auburn, near the shores of Owasco Lake. One of our lawyers, Lee Michaels, lives on Skaneateles Lake. I live in Geneva, on Seneca Lake. Since we are personal injury lawyers, and work in the Finger Lakes area, it is no surprise that we are the Finger Lakes boating accident lawyers of choice for many boating accident victims.. We know all too well the horrendous injuries that Central New York boating accidents can cause. A few years ago, we got a large settlement for a woman who lost her leg to a boat propeller.

Having lots of experience in boating accident lawsuits, I read with interest, and dismay, about last week’s Staten Island Ferry crash. Imagine the fear passengers experienced as the ferry approached the docking area without slowing down! Those who had time to react scurried toward the back of the boat. This week, the first lawsuit stemming from the boat crash was filed.

A boating accident like this has two possible causes: Pilot inattention or mechanical failure. Here mechanical failure appears to be the culprit. The boat’s throttle failed to engage, making it impossible for the pilot to apply the reverse thrust, which is how this boat is slowed down for docking. Investigators still haven’t figured out what caused the malfunction.

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