As the operator of a boat, the driver of the craft is commonly referred to as the ‘master of the ship’ and is responsible for the safety of his passengers on-board and those in tow on water skis or tubes.
While the ‘master of the ship’ phrase be be truthful in a significant number of situations, relying simply on a phrase or even common sense is rarely enough to successfully prove boating injury cases to an insurance company or jury.
Like many fields outside of the knowledge of an average person, expert witnesses can be incredibly useful in: providing background on a particular activity, explaining the responsibility of the party being sued and applying relevant laws and codes to the specific situation.
When representing people who have sustained serious injuries while boating or tubing, I always use an expert in the field of boating and water safety to review the conduct of the boat operator in causing or contributing to the incident. Particularly in the early stages of a case, I frequently find that the involvement of an expert can be a tremendous advantage for me in thoroughly understanding the circumstances and in deposing witnesses.
Just recently, I used an aquatic safety expert in a case where a boy suffered severe injuries to his back and neck while tubing when the operators boat launched him into the side of a dock on a small lake in Northern Illinois. After reviewing the Illinois Boating Accident Report (BAR) and paramedic report, he then applied the applicable laws and standards of care (he referenced: Boating Safety published by National Power Squadrons and the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary and Chapman Piloting-Seamanship and Small Boat Handling) to formulate his opinions regarding the operators conduct.
In particular, my aquatic safety expert (who is a retired Coast Guard Officer), opined the following regarding the operators conduct:
- The operator disregarded his responsibilities for safeguarding the person he was towing
- Violated Rule 5 of the Federal Inland Rules of the Road which requires operators to maintain a proper lookout at all times
- Violated Illinois Statute, 625 ILCS 45/5-1 stating: “Careless operation of a vessel is operating in a careless manner that causes danger to any person or property, or operating at speeds greater than which allows the operator to brig the vessel to a stop within an assured clear distance ahead.”
- Ignored the applicable Illinois Statute (625 ILCS 45/5-2) defining ‘reckless operation’ as the “the operation or manipulation of water skis, a surfboard or similar device is operating in a manner that causes danger to the life, limb or property of any person.”
- Violated the standard of care noted in Boating Safety related to towing a tube
- Violated the standards of of care in Chapman Piloting Seamanship and Small Boat Handling which discusses the “duties and responsibilities of the skipper” and imposes a duty on the operator to protect both the people in his vessel and those he may be towing behind.
While there are always different approachs that can be used in prosecuting recreational boat injury cases, I remain committed to the use of water safety experts for to both educate people on the applicable laws and explain why the incident occurred.
Friends speak out about tubing victim WEAU.com June 28, 2011
Boating Statistics (pdf) United States Coast Guard
Navigation Rules Online U.S. Department of Homeland Security