Boating Accidents, Crewmember S.O.S., Featured

A Lawyers Take on the Crew Club Boat Accident at Iowa State University

Jason R. Margulies

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Jason R. Margulies is a board-certified admiralty and maritime lawyer, as well as a co-managing partner of Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. After serving as a law clerk for the firm starting in 1992, Mr. Margulies joined the firm as an attorney. As a board certified and experienced trial lawyer, Jason handles personal injury and wrongful death claims. He has also handled hundreds of cruise ship rape and sexual assault cases.

A tragic accident occurred at Little Wall Lake on Sunday, March 28, near Iowa State University, when a crew team from the college capsized during training. Hamilton County Sheriff Department spokesman, Doug Timmons, said that the department dispatched emergency services in response to a call of a capsized boat around 9:30 a.m. While three of the team members were pulled from the water by onlookers, the other two men could not be located. The two missing individuals were later recovered by the Story County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team, but they were already dead. The three team members who were pulled from the water were released from the hospital.

Conditions Leading to The Tragedy

Iowa is still experiencing winter weather, and a temperature reading from a nearby airport around the time of the accident indicates that the conditions were freezing. Additionally, there were 20 mph sustained and 30 mph gusts of winds that may have affected everything from how the temperature felt to the men, the speed of the current, and the temperature of the water. These would be less than ideal conditions to be operating any vessel in, but particularly one with such a shallow draft. Capsizing is much more likely in the conditions presented. Additionally, the media reports seem to indicate that there was no coach or safety monitor onshore to help or summon rescue in the event of an accident.

Preventability of the Accident

Most accidents are preventable in hindsight, but in order to successfully litigate a wrongful death action in a civil court, attorneys must show that there was a duty of care by the negligent party and that the defendant failed to live up to that responsibility. In the Iowa State University news service, where university President Wendy Windersteen made her statement, the paper stated “The Iowa State Crew Club is a recognized student organization,” leaving little doubt that the school has the ultimate authority over the club.

Viability of a Case Against the School

As attorneys who have attended various universities around the country, we recognize the importance of higher education and the tremendous burden placed on colleges and their staff to ensure the safety of the students. We do not believe that every accident that occurs under the vigilance of a college is preventable. This one may have been, however.

Named partner Jason Margulies says “Universities that run crew practices need to ensure that conditions are safe and variables are properly controlled. When practice conditions are not properly evaluated and monitored, the safety of student-athletes is at risk.”

We have concerns about why this practice was allowed to go on. Some of the questions that we have include:

  • Did a university coach authorize this practice?
  • Is there a mechanism in place for notifying members of a canceled practice?
  • Does the university or the Iowa State Crew Club have a policy that specifies under what weather conditions a practice would be canceled?
  • What is the history of practice cancelations for the crew club?
  • Were the members given the option to practice in spite of the weather conditions?
  • What is the level of safety training of the individuals involved in the accident?

Naturally, proper litigation would require a much more in-depth examination of the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Maritime and Boating Accident Attorneys

As attorneys who handle wrongful death claims, we experience tragedy on a consistent basis. No one can reverse a mistake after it’s occurred, but a maritime attorney can help an injured party get the justice they deserve. For the families of many students who have died in avoidable accidents, they can take solace from penalizing the responsible parties.

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