Intoxication and Drowning Accidents

It is well-known that alcohol use is a factor in as many as 20 to 30% of traffic accidents involving a fatality or serious injury. Although the statistical data is less conclusive, it is estimated that alcohol impairment / intoxication is involved in a similar percentage of drowning and near-drowning accidents each year in the United States. In this post a drowning accident lawyer will explain the legal options that may be available to drowning and near-drowning accident victims and their families if alcohol was a factor in such accidents.

The Problem

Despite the enactment of laws prohibiting alcohol use by the operators of private watercraft, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Coast Guard have estimated that there are some 4,000 accidental drowning deaths each year in the United States and that alcohol use was a factor in as many as 700 to 800 (15-20%) of such deaths. In many of these accidental deaths post-accident investigations have determined that the victim was not using a personal flotation device despite state laws mandating their use while a boat is away from shore, particularly by non-adult passengers.

Who is responsible in watercraft accidents involving alcohol?

As it is interpreted in the United States, personal injury law makes the assumption that an individual will always act in a manner that minimizes the risk of an injury to another. If someone acts with a reasonable knowledge that their actions could present a danger to the safety of another, that person can be held liable for any injury that can be directly linked to their negligence.

In personal injury law as it relates to recreational watercraft, the owner or operator of that vessel is assumed to be responsible for its safe operation. This includes making sure that the vessel has successfully passed any required safety inspections and that each passenger is using any required safety devices such as life-jackets or other flotation devices while the watercraft is in operation.

The person in charge of a watercraft, be it the owner of the vessel or anyone who is acting as its operator with the owner’s consent, is also required to be free of any impairment in judgment or in voluntary action due to alcohol. In fact, most states have enacted laws establishing that a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% is sufficient to prove impairment of a boat operator.

As is the case with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, there mere fact that someone is operating a watercraft with a BAC in excess of 0.08% is sufficient to establish liability in case of an accident. Furthermore, the presence of a lesser BAC can be used to demonstrate that alcohol-impaired judgment was present at the time of an accident and can be used in support of a claim of negligence as a cause of an accident.

Negligence in boating accidents is not restricted to the operator of watercraft. As an example, if the operator of a marina or similar service were to sell alcohol to an obviously intoxicated watercraft operator the marina could be held liable for any subsequent damages caused by the impaired boat operator.

How a drowning accident lawyer can help the families of drowning accident victims

Although any accidental death is a tragedy, the victim of a drowning accident is often a teenager or a young adult. As such, these accident victims often leave behind a spouse and young children who have lost the family breadwinner and are unprepared for the emotional and financial disruptions that follow such accidents. In such cases, it is often advisable to consult with a drowning accident lawyer to review the circumstances of the drowning accident in order to determine the potential liability of others who may have contributed to the sudden loss of a loved one.

A local drowning accident attorney will be familiar with your state’s legal definition of liability as well as how your state courts have applied that definition in previous, similar, cases. Furthermore, a local drowning accident lawyer may be able to identify additional factors that will establish liability on the part of others when such liability may not have been recognized at the time of the accident itself.

In summary, a significant number of drowning accident deaths will include alcohol intoxication / impairment as either the direct or contributing cause of the accident. If it can be demonstrated that alcohol could have been a factor in a recreational drowning case, the person whose intoxication may have played a role in such an accident may be found liable in a wrongful death lawsuit and may be ordered to pay damages to the surviving family members.