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Our Austin personal injury attorneys investigate a fatal boating accident.

With little to no warning, a boating trip on Lake Travis, Lake Austin or Lady Bird Lake can end in tragedy. Almost any boating accident may result in the wrongful death of one or more victims due to the increased risk of drowning. In fact, statistics collected by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) show that 626 people lost their lives in boating accidents during 2015. Of those, 76 percent drowned. In many cases in Travis County and across the country, owner and/or operator negligence is to blame for boat crashes. Such negligence may include drinking while boating, failing to maintain equipment and operator inexperience. After a fatal boat accident, family members may be able to file a wrongful death claim to hold the negligent party accountable.

Unfortunately, boating accidents are difficult to investigate. Accidents on the water can leave less evidence than accidents that occur on highways, for example. Understanding what caused a fatal boating accident can require a thorough and detailed investigation. Boating accident lawyer Aaron Allison has decades of experience serving injured Texans in Travis County and the surrounding Hill Country. He runs a compassionate, community-oriented firm that will give your boating accident case the attention it deserves. Call (512) 474-8346 to schedule a free initial consultation.

What Risk Factors Can Contribute to a Fatal Boat Accident?

In many cases, fatal accidents involving boating are preventable. The USCG has identified several preventable causes of fatal boat accidents, such as:

  • Alcohol use. According to the USCG, alcohol use is responsible for an estimated 17 percent of fatal boating accidents. Drunk boating can cause serious operator errors, potentially resulting in a crash, capsizing or other accident. Intoxicated boat passengers are also much more likely to drown than those who are not under the influence.
  • Lack of safety equipment. USCG statistics show 84 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned because they were not wearing life jackets. Texas boats must have wearable or throwable personal flotation devices (PFDs) on board. In addition, children under 13 years of age must wear PFDs approved by the Coast Guard while riding on boats less than 26 feet long. These devices must be in good condition and readily accessible. Operators must also ensure passengers follow these regulations.
  • Broken equipment. Boat owners must perform regular maintenance and safety checks on all equipment on the vessel. Broken lights, electrical equipment and other gear can render boats unsafe for use. For example, malfunctioning boat engine compartments can cause fatal carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Operator error or negligence. Boat operators must constantly keep an eye out for submerged rocks and objects. They must be mindful of weather conditions and other nearby water crafts. Boaters and jet skiers under the influence may collide with other watercraft, water skiers or swimmers.
  • Operator inexperience. A common cause of operator errors is inexperience. For example, an inexperienced boat operator may cross the wake of another nearby boat, forcing a collision. They may fail to avoid other objects, such as swimmers, water skiers and wake boarders. Boaters who lack experience may not understand the risks of operating during unsafe weather conditions.

Can I File a Lawsuit for a Fatal Boating Accident?

To secure damages from a wrongful death lawsuit after a fatal boating accident, you will need to demonstrate the negligence of another party. Depending on the circumstances, there could be multiple ways to establish liability. Your boat accident attorney may investigate several factors, such as:

  • Were people drinking before the accident? It is important to determine whether the boat’s operator was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drowning is also more likely to occur when passengers are under the influence.
  • Was the boat’s operator speeding or conducting other unsafe maneuvers before the accident? Your attorney could also determine whether the boat’s operator overloaded the craft with too many passengers.
  • Did the boat’s operator pass any boating safety courses? Your attorney may investigate whether the boat’s operator holds a Texas Boater Education Certificate. This factor could be important for determining whether the boat operator lacked experience.
  • Did the boat have legally required safety equipment? In cases involving drowning, it could be important to determine whether the boat had safety equipment on board. Boats are required by law to have readily accessible floatation devices. It may also be important to determine whether this equipment was USCG approved and in good condition.

Witness statements, social media posts, video footage and other evidence can further help establish liability. Additionally, boat operators must report fatal accidents to the authorities within 48 hours. These accident reports, or lack thereof, could be useful for showing fault.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of fatal boating accidents over the past few years. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, there was a 40 percent increase in boating fatalities in the first months of 2021 alone. Why are fatal boating accidents so common, and when do you need a boating accident lawyer?

Causes of Fatal Boating Accidents

The US Coast Guard reports that there were 5,265 US boating accidents in 2020, causing 767 deaths and over $62 million in damages. The five most common types of boating accidents are:

  1. Collision a with a recreational water vessel
  2. Boat flooding/swamping
  3. Collision with a fixed object
  4. Boat grounding
  5. Falls overboard

While falls overboard are the least frequent cause of accidents — just 335 incidents in 2020 — it was the highest cause of fatalities. The report indicates that 161 people were injured, and 181 people died as a result of falling overboard.

Not every fatal boating accident is cause for a wrongful death lawsuit. Some accidents are simply accidents. To determine whether there is civil liability, it is important to consider the contributing factors that led to the accident. According to the Coast Guard, the top ten contributing factors of boating accidents are:

  1. Operator inattention
  2. Operator inexperience
  3. Improper lookout
  4. Excessive speed
  5. Machinery failure
  6. Violation of the rules of navigation
  7. Alcohol use
  8. Weather
  9. Hazardous water
  10. Force of waves or wakes

Among these, alcohol use is the highest contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, with 115 deaths in 2020. Finally, out of 534 boating accident deaths, 450 victims were not wearing a life jacket. These deaths — if not the accidents — are preventable if people practice good boating safety and follow Coast Guard boating regulations.

What To Do if You Have Lost a Loved One in a Texas Boating Accident

When there has been a boating accident, the operator of the vessel is legally required to:

  • Render any assistance necessary to minimize danger, including retrieving people from the water, providing first aid, calling for medical assistance, etc. within safe and practical limits.
  • Give their name, address, and vessel identification to any injured person or anyone who suffered property damage in the incident.

Boating accidents are required to be reported to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department if:

  • Any boating accident results in an injury requiring more medical treatment than simple first aid
  • Any boating accident results in death within 48 hours
  • Any boating accident causes property damage in excess of $2000

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will investigate the accident and send their incident report to law enforcement officials. As with a motor vehicle accident, a boat operator who is found to be at fault in a serious accident may face criminal charges, so the involvement of law enforcement is often necessary.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or suffered property damage in a boating accident, and you aren’t sure whether the accident has been reported, contact TPWD immediately.

When Do You Need a Texas Boat Accident Attorney?

You’ll likely need legal representation if you or a loved one have been involved in a boating accident and someone else was at fault. There may have been dangerous or faulty equipment on the boat, or someone was behaving in a way that was negligent or reckless and caused the accident.

Additionally, if You suffered damages, consider representation. If you had to pay medical expenses, suffered property damage, lost time at work, or experienced pain and suffering you should contact a boat accident attorney immediately. You may have cause for a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, and boat accident wrongful death amounts can include costs for medical and funeral expenses, lost work and wages, pain and suffering, and even punitive damages.

At Aaron Allison, our expert boat accident lawyer offers free consultations in the case of boat accident injuries or boat accident wrongful death. We will help you understand your rights and fight for a fair recovery. Since 1978, our family-owned law firm has been helping Texas accident victims, and we have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Contact us to learn more about how we can help.

Need Help with a Wrongful Death Claim? Contact Our Austin Boating Accident Lawyer

If you have lost a loved one in a recreational boating accident, then you may have legal options. At the Law Offices of Aaron Allison, our skill and experience in conducting boat accident investigations could help uncover who is responsible. After our investigation, we will build a case to find justice for your loved one who was taken because of someone else’s negligence. Damages from a wrongful death lawsuit could help pay for funeral costs, lost income, and pain and suffering.

To schedule a free initial consultation, call (512) 474-8346 or contact our Austin personal injury lawyer online. Our fees are contingent on securing compensation for you; we do not charge attorney fees unless we successfully resolve your case.

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