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Boating and PWC (Personal Watercraft, Jetski) Accidents

FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION FOR BOATING ACCIDENTS (702) 343-0494

MORE CASH FOR YOUR CRASH? If the police cited the other party and not you in a boating collision our contingent fee (we don't get paid unless you do) is a low 25%, see Low Fee for Favorable Police Report Cases otherwise it is one third.

Serious injuries or death can result when boats strike people in the water, either with their propellers, sides (if they are moving fast) or their jet propulsion systems. Other boating injuries occur when boats strike each other, submerged reefs, or the shoreline.

Death or injury can also occur on boats because of a build up of carbon monoxide in the cabin area if the engine or generator exhaust gasses are not properly vented. 

Explosive fires can occur in a cabin if the engine and fuel tank are not properly vented, especially with gasoline motors. 

Note: Boating collisions and mishaps occurring on the Colorado River or its lakes such as Lake Mead, Lake Mohave, and Lake Havasu, are subject to both state law and special federal admiralty law.(This is because these water bodies are considered navigable interstate waterways because you can ride a boat on them and their shorelines touch more than one state.) Before hiring a lawyer for such a case, ask him or her if they have ever filed suit in federal admiralty court. We have. In certain situations the federal admiralty law will be more favorable to you than state law. (See the box below on Federal admiralty law.)

Violation of a statute that contributes to an injury helps establish liability. Here are some Nevada and federal laws relevant to Nevada boat accident or collision claims:

  • Anyone born after 1983 must have completed a boating education course to operate a motorized boat or watercraft with 15 horsepower or more. 
  • An orange flag must be raised if a water skier is down and other boats may not come within 100 feet of the flag.
  • Children under 13 must wear a life jacket at all times.
  • it is illegal to operate a motorboat when weather conditions are deemed dangerous.
  • It is illegal to create a wake in a "No Wake" zone.
  • It is illegal to operate a boat while intoxicated.
  • A proper lookout must be kept at all times.

Major causes of boat collisions include:

  • Operator error
  • Operator intoxication
  • Operator inexperience
  • Faulty equipment 
  • Improper lookout
  • Excessive speed

According to a 3/7/17 article in the Las Vegas Review Journal, between 2006-2016, 13 people died in boating accidents on Lake Mead and 87 drowned in the lake.

Many people don't realize how quickly a person can be overcome by hypothermia (cold), or dehydration if they are not drinking enough fluid, or exhaustion and lose their ability to swim. If the wind comes up, waves appear and can swamp or overturn a boat. A person dumped into windy water will experience severe evaporative cooling on the parts of their body above water. (Think of stepping out of a swimming pool when the wind is blowing hard.) Even without wind, the water can chill a body rapidly and cause loss of muscle coordination.

Special Problems with Personal Watercraft:

Personal Watercraft, also called jetskis and skidoos, were originally designed with a huge design defect: Lift off the throttle to slow down because you fear a collision or are coming in to dock and now you have lost all steering control. This would be the equivalent of a car whose steering locked in the straight ahead position as soon as you lift your foot off the gas! The reason for this is that the design calls for a steerable jet of water to move the PWC forward. As soon as you lift off the throttle the jet stops and steering is lost.

One simple fix is to install a rudder under the water jet. That way even if the jet stops putting out water there is still steering with the rudder. In 2000 a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury awarded $8.36 million against Yamaha to a person made paraplegic by an out of control jetski whose operator lifted the throttle to avoid a collision and lost all steering. Based on such accidents the Society of Automotive Engineers formed the Personal Watercraft Subcommittee. In 2003 it came out with a standard, SAE J2608, called "Off Throttle Steering Capabilities of Personal Watercraft" which is supposed to apply to 2006 and later model year personal watercraft. If personal injury results from a PWC lacking off-throttle steering ability there may well be a great defective product case.

Federal Admiralty Law and Boating Accidents:

Federal admiralty law, also called federal maritime law, generally applies to boating accidents on navigable interstate waterways such as Lake Mead, Lake Mohave, Lake Havasu, and the Pacific Ocean including all of its bays. In other words, if a lake or river borders two states, no matter how small, as long as boats can travel on it, federal law will apply to a boating accident on it. In many cases the federal admiralty law is supplemented by state law; in other cases state law is displaced by federal admiralty law.

IN MANY CASES FEDERAL ADMIRALTY LAW IS MORE FAVORABLE TO ACCIDENT VICTIMS THAN STATE LAW SO A LAWYER HANDLING A BOATING INJURY CASE SHOULD KNOW FEDERAL ADMIRALTY LAW.

Federal admiralty law impacts boating accidents or collisions on interstate navigable waterways in the following important ways:

  1. Federal courts have jurisdiction of admiralty cases even if the requirements for federal diversity jurisdiction are not met. However, many admiralty cases can also be brought in state court.
  2. Admiralty claims include the usual personal injury claims. Most admiralty claims involve injured seaman, but admiralty law applies to pleasure boat mishaps if they happen on navigable interstate water. For example, in a 2009 case the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit applied admiralty law to a jet ski accident in an area of San Diego bay too shallow for commercial ships.
  3. Under admiralty law, fault is apportioned among the defendants if there are more than one, but the defendants are jointly and severally liable. For example, if injury is caused 90% by the error of a person operating a boat and 10% by a defect in the way the boat was manufactured, the victim can collect all of his or her damages from the boat manufacturer OR the operator, whoever is easier to collect against. In this example, if the boat manufacturer paid 100% of the damages, it would then be the manufacturer's problem to get paid back the other 90% from the careless operator. This joint and several liability under admiralty law (also called maritime law) can be a good reason to file a personal injury case in federal court under admiralty jurisdiction in many cases.
  4. Under admiralty law there is a provision allowing the injury victim to have U.S. Marshalls seize the boat which did the injury at the beginning of the lawsuit. This procedure, called "ship arrest" requires that the lawsuit be filed in federal court. (It is called an "in rem" proceeding, or a proceeding against the ship or boat.) Ship arrest is not for every case; it is expensive, but it may be a way to secure a potential source of recovery for the injured victim. Even if the boat or ship is not seized, the victim has a lien on it for his or her injuries.
  5. Admiralty law applies the "Pennsylvania Rule" which comes from an 1873 U.S. Supreme Court case which is still good law. This rule is that if the defendant violated a safety statute that arguably could have prevented the accident, the burden is on the defendant to prove that such violations could not have caused the accident. Thus, if the defendant violated a safety rule that might have marginally contributed to the accident, the defendant has the almost impossible burden of proving that the safety violation could not have contributed to the accident.
  6. Unfortunately, admiralty law may be used defensively by a boat owner who was not negligent in causing the injury and was not negligent in maintaining the boat and who was not negligent in entrusting the boat to an operator. In such cases the boat owners may limit their liability to the value of the boat and its contents. The Defendant can make use of this defensive admiralty law even if the Plaintiff does not invoke federal admiralty law. For example, in a recent case in federal court involving a terrible injury caused by a rented pontoon boat on Lake Havasu, the boat rental company successfully limited its liability to the small value of the rented pontoon boat.

As experienced personal injury attorneys and lawyers we are prepared to handle your boating or PWC personal injury claim. Before hiring one of our competitors ask him or her if they have ever handled a federal admirality claim for personal injury.

Injuries to Seamen

Injuries to seamen who spend most of their time aboard a particular vessel are covered by the federal Jones Act. Unlike typical workmen's compensation statutes, this act is based on fault, but the standard is liberally applied in favor of the injured seaman. Compensation to the injured seaman typically runs much higher than it would under a workman's compensation statute. If the ship is not owned by the federal government but is American flagged the statute of limitations is most likely three years. (More details are needed before one can be certain of the statute of limitations.) The ship's owners can be sued in federal court in any state in which the owners are considered to be doing business.

The Law Firm of Reed & Mansfield, Attorneys  Personal Injury & Property Damage, Las Vegas, NV

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