A boating accident that took place this past summer over the July 4th holiday caused the death of three small children. A battle over liability for the deaths has begun, despite the fact that lawsuits over the accident have yet to be filed. A lawyer for the owner of the boat the children were in has filed documents in a federal trial court seeking an opinion that any claim arising out of the accident can only be heard in federal court under admiralty (maritime) law.

If the court agrees to this, the liability of the boat owner could be limited to as little as the remaining cash value of the boat, which one appraiser estimated as being worth as little as $500 after the boat’s hull was rescued from the water. That is a far cry from the level of damages that could be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in state court. Recovery in such a lawsuit could include medical and funeral expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of services.

However, even if the federal court does claim exclusive jurisdiction over future lawsuits concerning the accident, the liability limitation could be exceeded. This would require the children’s estate to prove that at the owner of the boat knew of defects on the boat but failed to take necessary corrective action or was otherwise negligent.

It may also be possible for the surviving families to try to sue other third parties, such as the boat’s manufacturer or someone who worked on maintaining or repairing the boat, if their negligence contributed to the accident. While this accident occurred in New York, rather than Missouri, many of the same legal issues would arise in a lawsuit over a boating accident in this state. This makes it important for accident victims or their families to work with an attorney knowledgeable in the laws applicable to boating accidents.

Source: Long Island Newsday, “Boat owner in fatal accident seeks limit on liability” Bill Bleyer, Oct. 09, 2013