Boating accidents have devastating consequences for victims and their families. Companies that own and operate tour boats, cruise ships, ferries, and duck tour boats are required to maintain their vessels in proper condition, provide life-saving devices such as life jackets for passengers, and ensure compliance with maritime law and applicable regulations.
Tragically, unethical operators choose to put profit ahead of safety by:
- Failing to properly maintain boats in their fleet.
- Failing to operate boats in a safe manner.
- Failing to cancel tours when dangerous conditions are forecast.
- Failing to clearly inform passengers where safety gear can be found and how to use it.
- Failing to properly train crewmembers.
- Failing to make passenger safety the primary consideration.
If a vessel owner or operator puts lives in danger through negligent, careless or reckless actions (or inactions), they can be held liable for any personal injury or wrongful death that happens as a result.
Boating Accident Lawyers
For decades, Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman has successfully fought for victims affected by catastrophic accidents, including devastating boat crashes, fires, structure collapses and commercial transportation crashes. Our boat accident attorneys include board certified trial lawyers, certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Our lawyers have sued some of the largest transportation companies in the world.
Our firm has developed a reputation for holding negligent companies accountable and championing victims’ rights. If you have been harmed in a boating accident and are seeking legal guidance, contact us or give us a call today. We can answer any questions you may have about your claim and help you and your family decide if filing boat accident lawsuit is the right decision.
Tour Boat Accidents
Tour boats are a way for people to see the sights in exciting locations. Areas near the ocean, rivers or lakes offer water taxis, charter boat rentals, duck boat tours, swamp tours, fishing tours, whale watching, scuba and snorkeling tours, and more.
Tour boat operators owe a duty of care to ensure the safety of their passengers. Any negligence can turn an otherwise fun activity into tragedy. Below are some common results of tour boat operator negligence:
- Wrongful death. Passengers aboard tour boats must be offered some level of protection against drowning in the event of an accident. This includes railings and barriers to keep passengers from going overboard, and access to certified life vests or other floatation devices.
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI) or spinal injury. Head and neck injuries are common if a tour boat collides with another vessel, as most, if not all passengers are not wearing safety belts.
- Fire and burn injury. Fires on boats are catastrophic as they can spread quickly, and passengers have little time to react with minimal escape routes. Boat owners and operators must ensure all on board have a means of escape and that fire suppression systems are present, functional and easily accessible.
- Other personal injuries. Passengers may sustain broken bones, lacerations or other personal injuries if they are standing or walking on the tour boat while it maneuvers through the water.
Types of Tour Boat Accidents
- Boat sinking
- Boat collision with another boat (or another vehicle)
- Boat fire
- Boat explosion
- Boat colliding into land, docks or structures
Dive boats, sometimes referred to as scuba boats, take people out for diving excursions. These excursions can be as short as a few hours or several days long and can involve people with a range of experience, from beginners to highly experienced divers. Depending on the size of the dive boat, tours can take dozens of people at a time and may include gourmet meals, sleeping berths, and ecological presentations.
As with all boats, dive boats can be the scene of great tragedy. Tour boat owners, operators, and crew are responsible for passenger safety, including ensuring that the boat is seaworthy, that all Coast Guard safety rules and regulations have been met, that there are no unreasonable defects or hazards on the boat, that all exits are easily accessible, and that passengers are not put at any unnecessary risk of harm, including death.
Dive Boat Accidents
In the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2019, a fire broke out aboard the Conception, a dive boat owned by Truth Aquatics. Five crew members who were above deck jumped from the ship and swam to safety, but the 33 passengers and one crew member below deck were unable to escape and died. Reports indicate passengers only had one staircase and one hatch as possible escape routes. Early reports indicate that both means of escape had been cut off by fire and/or smoke, thus sealing the fate of those below deck.
The Conception was involved in a multiple-day dive tour that was chartered by Finstads’ Worldwide Diving Adventures.
In Hawaii, for example, lava tour boats are common. Lava boats allow tourists to see different perspectives of volcanoes or views of hot lava entering the ocean. While these boat excursions may offer excitement for passengers, they do come with some level of danger.
On July 16, 2018, a tour boat operated by Lava Ocean Tours was hit by a chunk of lava off the coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. Nearly two dozen people sustained injury in the Hawaii tour boat accident.
Our firm was retained by several victims of this preventable tragedy. We intend to hold accountable all responsible parties and obtain maximum compensation on behalf of our clients. As committed safety advocates, we will also fight to ensure that this type of accident does not happen again.
Duck Boats are amphibious vehicles that can travel over land or water. While they were initially designed for use in WWII, they are now used for recreational purposes to take sightseers around tourist destinations, offering different perspectives from both land and water.
Duck Boat tours are held in cities that reside near bodies of water across the U.S.
Duck Tour Accidents
After numerous fatalities in Duck Boat accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended changes to Duck Boat designs, including removing the canopy, which can trap passengers if a Duck Boat takes on water.
Among the multiple-fatality accidents involving Duck Boats:
In 2016, Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman filed a lawsuit on behalf of one of the five victims killed in the 2015 Duck Boat accident in Seattle. The wrongful death lawsuit alleges the Duck Boat vehicle involved in the collision had a known defect in the axle, which caused the driver to lose control and veer into oncoming traffic.
According to the complaint, Ride the Ducks International is strictly liable for all damages because the Duck Boat vehicle was not reasonably safe. The lawsuit further alleges that Ride the Ducks International failed to provide adequate warnings or maintenance and repair instructions for the repair of the Duck Boat vehicle prior to the crash.
The lawsuit alleges that Ride the Ducks Seattle, the Duck Boat operator involved in the Seattle accident, was negligent in many respects, including but not limited to:
- Failing to properly inspect, maintain and repair the Duck Boat vehicle.
- Failing to use reasonable care to detect and remedy hazardous defects.
- Failing to address a 2013 safety notice issued by Ride the Ducks International.
- Failing to properly train and supervise its mechanics and drivers.
- Operating an unsafe, dangerous and defective Duck Boat vehicle on a state highway known to have inadequate lane width to accommodate the Duck Boat.
- Requiring drivers to function as both tour guides and drive its vehicles simultaneously.
In 2016, Ride the Ducks International (RTDI), the manufacturer of the duck boat vehicle involved in the Seattle crash, agreed to pay up to $1 million in civil fines for violating federal safety regulations. RTDI failed to notify federal transportation officials and issue a recall after discovering a potential defect on the front axles of its duck boats.
“Duck Boat vehicles were not originally designed for recreational tourist excursions, especially with large groups,” says attorney Timothy A. Loranger, who represents victims from the 2015 Duck Boat crash in Seattle. “Yet despite numerous safety lapses, these amphibious vehicles continue to operate in cities throughout the country…it is shameful.”
Three years after the tragic crash, 43 victims who were injured or killed in the Seattle duck boat crash (including the Derschmidt family) were finally able to present their cases to a jury.
The trial lasted for months and included more than a week of deliberations. In the end, the jury found that Ride the Ducks and Ride the Ducks International were negligent in the 2015 Seattle Duck Boat crash and awarded $123 million to victims and their families.
According to the verdict, Ride the Ducks International carried 67-70% liability for the crash, and Ride the Ducks Seattle carried 30-33% liability depending on whether the victims were passengers on the duck boat or the charter bus. The jury awarded the Derschmidt family over $20 million in damages.
“Felix and Moritz Derschmidt are grateful for the jury who listened to their story with such care and respect and who truly appreciated the loss suffered by them, their family, and the community. Their mother was a young and vibrant teacher whom they loved very much,” said Timothy A. Loranger, an attorney for Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, who represented the Derschmidts.
Loranger was part of the trial team for the plaintiffs, conducting extensive pre-trial work pertaining to liability issues, mechanical defects, and service bulletins. Karen Koehler from the law firm of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan Koehler Moore served as lead trial counsel in the case.
Cruise ships offer excursions and activities at ports of call, including sightseeing bus tours and charter boat trips. While cruise companies may tell passengers that they have performed the due diligence of vetting the excursion vendors they contract with, when disaster strikes, passengers often find that the cruise ship’s promise of safety was far from a guarantee.
Cruise lines usually tout the tours they offer at various ports of call. But, when a passenger is injured on a tour, they hasten to distance themselves from the company operating the tour. The fine print on cruise ship tickets (or contracts, to be more specific) assert that cruise companies are not actually vouching for cruise ship excursion operators, nor do they view them as agents affiliated with the cruise company. To the contrary, when excursion accidents happen, cruise companies trot out the fine print to inform its injured passenger that, “unfortunately”, they have nothing to do with the tour, that the tour operators providing onshore services are independent contractors, so “don’t bother us, go sue them.”
Another way that cruise lines make it difficult for injured passengers, or their families, to hold them responsible, is through a provision buried in the fine print, usually only understood by lawyers known as a “forum selection clause” This provision is designed to allow cruise companies to select the location where a potential product liability, personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit can be filed.
How does this help shield cruise lines from liability? The forum selection clause might require claims to be decided in a state far from the residence of passengers or their family, or even in some foreign country. This creates a burden for most that often discourages people from pursuing their rights.
The good news is that the facts and circumstances of a cruise ship excursion accident can be used to hold the cruise line accountable under several theories of liability. One theory is to argue that the excursion vendor is acting as an agent of the cruise ship, regardless of the cruise company’s representations to the contrary.
Even if the excursion vendor is not considered an agent of the cruise ship under the law, the cruise ship may still be held liable under a theory of apparent agency, as the cruise company created the appearance of an agency relationship in an effort to sell more tickets for the excursion, and, after all, profits from the sales of the tours.
Another theory of liability—if an investigation reveals dangerous conditions on the part of the excursion vendor that the cruise company either knew or should have known, then the cruise company may have had a duty to warn passengers or not contract with the vendor. An example of this would be if the excursion vendor had a demonstrated poor safety record, that could be evidence of negligence on the part of the cruise company.
Ferry boats are often used to transport passengers, frequently over a short distance. Transportation authorities might use them to transport commuters across a harbor, between islands, or for short sightseeing trips.
In 2010, a Staten Island captain lost control of the boat as it approached the St. George terminal too fast. Consequently, in violently crashed into the pier. Approximately 40 people were taken to local hospitals following the ferry crash. Seven years before, the same ferry missed a dock and crashed into a maintenance pier while traveling at full speed. Eleven people died and 70 more were injured.
What to Do After a Tour Boat Accident?
If you or someone you love was harmed in a boat crash, it is in your best interest to speak with a lawyer who has experience handling catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death cases.
You need someone who will fight hard to ensure you receive the compensation you are entitled to, and who will hold boat owners and tour companies responsible for their actions or negligence.
You need a firm with experienced trial lawyers.
Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman has represented thousands of people across the U.S. who have been affected by tragedies and mass disasters. We have extensive experience investigating major transportation accidents, including boat accidents, plane crashes and train derailments.
Our attorneys are ceaseless safety advocates dedicated to protecting consumers from negligent companies that willingly choose to put profits above all else.
Contact Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman today to discuss your legal options. Our attorneys are available for a no-obligation consultation, to answer your questions and explain your rights.