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Boat accident in Orange County cases lawsuit against Coast Guard

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James E. Ballidis
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Five days before Christmas 2009, three families were enjoying the San Diego boat parade in a 24 foot Sea Ray when suddenly they were struck by a 33-foot Coast Guard vessel rushing to the scene of a boater in distress. An 8 year old boy, Anthony Cole De Weese died from blunt- force injuries. The other 7 people in the boat all were injured but were expected to recover.

Last week the three families; DeWeese, Stannard and Mills filed a joint lawsuit against the Coast Guard. The families know that it will not bring back little Anthony, but it will send a message to the Coast Guard that their vessels and crew have to have better training, because this was not the first incidence with this vessel.
In Southern California we can enjoy boating nearly year around. It is s a true boater’s paradise, but with 3.5 million unlicensed recreational boat owners here in California, there are varying degrees of experienced seaman. Yes, that’s right; you do not need to have a license to drive a boat in the state of California.

California bill AB 1458 has been stalled in Sacramento for several years now, but it would mandate that all boat drivers have a license, similar to car drivers. The bill would require operators of motorized vessels to pass an examination and obtain a life-time certificate before they operate a vessel. Currently there are safety courses available but they are taken on a voluntary basis. California also rates second in accidents and fatalities, next to Florida.

Accident rates were slightly down in 2008 compared to previous years, but California still had 520 accidents with 45 fatalities and 376 injuries. Additionally, California had the most alcohol-use accidents in the country.
Some of the major factors contributing to boating accidents are operator inattention, reckless operation, excessive speed and alcohol use. Many accidents involve more than one cause. Over 40% of serious incidences with boats involve collisions with other boats. The one major factor that will save lives in boating accidents is the use of a life jacket or personal flotation device (pfd). Two-thirds of all boating accident victims drowned and 90% of them did not wear life jackets. A good rule of thumb is to have a safety jacket for each person aboard your boat. As the owner of a boat, as is similar to owning a car, you are responsible for the well-being of your passengers.

Another growing problem for boat owners are sudden deaths that can be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning; both in and outside the boat. Passengers should be aware just how deadly CO can be and that’s why towing passengers in watercraft such as teak surfing is now prohibited.

The California Department of Boating and Waterways publishes an excellent brochure entitled, “ABC’s of the California Boating law”. It is freely available from the website www.dbw.ca.gov/pubs/abc/. In addition, they offer a free home study course called, California Boating Safety. Call 916-263-1331 for more information.
There are also many free courses on boating safety as well being offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Call 800-368-5647 for further information.

Whether it is mandated or not, before you should drive your boat, it is wise to get educated on boat safety.

Category: Wrongful Death

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