Boating Accidents

No Boat Capacity Limits Under Law; Family of Deceased Pushes For Change


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Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. is comprised of attorneys that are nationally-recognized industry leaders in the field of maritime and admiralty law. Our team of lawyers has over a century of combined experience, has successfully handled over 3,000 cases, and has recovered over 300 million dollars in damages for our clients.

It’s what no parent ever wants to come face to face with: The death of their own child. It is reality for Paul and Lisa Gaines, after the death of their seven year old girl in a boating accident that is now being called a “purely avoidable incident”, according to Mr. Gaines’ quote as reported by the Huffington Post.

The accident happened when the girl was trapped inside the cabin of the vessel, which capsized shortly after the conclusion of a New York City fireworks display. The 34 foot yacht would not have been subject to capacity limits that smaller boats are subject to. Boats under twenty feet are regulated by the Coast Guard; larger vessels are regulated in this manner only by the ship’s captain. There were 27 passengers aboard the 34-foot vessel.

There may have been several contributing factors in the accident, including a large wave that impacted the boat around the time of capsize. The investigation is ongoing.

For every accident that does make the news, there are literally thousands that are unreported. According to the United States Coast guard, there were over 4,500 boating accidents which cost 758 lives—and that’s just in the United States. A boater safety course is required. Chapter one of the Boating101 handbook, required reading for individual operators of vessels, says:

It is required for all mono-hull boats under 20 feet built on or after November 1,1972 to have a capacity plate approved by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). In addition some manufacturers voluntarily install capacity plates on boats larger than 20 feet. This plate must be visible from the operator’s station. The capacity plate lists a safe motor size; the maximum number of persons to be carried onboard and the total weight the boat can carry including persons, motor and gear. When operating your boat be sure to adhere to the restrictions listed on the capacity plate.

There would still be some grounds for recovery under the law, even as an effort persists to amend maritime law to set capacity limits for larger vessels, too. Under the law, the operator of a ship is duty-bound to ensure the safety and security of the passengers. In the July 4th accident, three children are deceased, 24 other passengers, adults and children, survive.

Use of boating experts is essential to successfully litigating recreational boating negligence cases. Experienced maritime lawyers often call upon these boating experts – usually retired Coast Guard officers or licensed seagoing captains to offer opinions as to the operational negligence of a boat’s captain in, for example, overloading a boat beyond capacity. Also, it is important that the parents engage an experienced maritime lawyer in this case who understands the interplay between the General Maritime Law and New York State Law, which may come into play as it appears the incident occurred within New York territorial waters.

If the parents can show that the operator did not exercise the due care under the law, the operator should be deemed negligent, and recovery can be gained by boating accident attorneys to compensate the parents for loss of companionship, among other things. Despite the possible grounds for recovery in the case, no civil judgment can ever fully restore a parents’ loss.

Our boating accident lawyers understand that; it’s why we act with integrity and compassion in all we do, working tirelessly on behalf of all victims of maritime accidents, incidents, injuries, and preventable crimes and assaults. With the staggering number of boating accidents yearly, it is important to know of skilled and qualified maritime lawyers that can assert the many legal rights that passengers and crew have in the event of an accident on the water. The law may actually change because of this case. Our firm has been changing case law, setting precedent in a number of landmark cases that we have been successful in litigating over the years. Passengers and crew have more rights than they did when we embarked on this journey; it’s a mission we continue on even today.

Photo Credit: NY Post

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