Boating Accidents

by William Jorden on June 3, 2011

On Memorial Day weekend, at the Erie Yacht Club in Erie, Pennsylvania, a boat explosion killed a 25 year old woman who was a guest on the boat and injured nine other people.  What was to have been a happy, fun-filled day on the water turned into a horrible tragedy.  As a lifelong boater myself, an accident like this is particularly unsettling.

Years ago, in my law school days, I witnessed a dear friend be blown out of a water-ski boat and severely burned after re-fueling.  A surfer friend of mine lost his father when his fishing boat exploded in the Florida Keys.  While serving as a Boy Scout Master I took my two sons and twenty other scouts on a sailing adventure.  The boys manned a tall ship, the Spirit of Miami, sailing from Islamorada, Florida to the Dry Tortugas.  While in port at Key West, we were alerted to a propane leak by a gas detector alarm on our boat.  The Scouts were safely evacuated immediately.  The problem was solved and we were able to safely continue on our adventure.

Based on this current tragedy in Erie and my experiences, I would like to share with you several thoughts;

The ignition of gas fumes causing explosion is a known hazard on power boats.  Every single time after I take my ski-boat off the boat lift and before starting it, I do three things.  First, I turn on the bilge blower.  Second, I lift the engine hatch.  Third, I smell for gas fumes.

Safety requires all in-board engine boat operators to take similar precautions.

Exhortations to be careful, alone, will not prevent the killing, burning, or maiming of innocent pleasure boaters.  Boat manufacturers must also be held accountable and be forced to make the boats the manufacture and sell safe.  It is technologically feasible to equip pleasure boats will alarm systems that will detect and warn of dangerous gas leaks or gas fumes.

The social purposes of tort and personal injury law are to hold manufacturers accountable, make products safer, and prevent accidents.

It is well established law in Pennsylvania that the manufacturer of a defective product is liable for injuries caused by the defect.  A product is considered to be defective if it is not provided with every element necessary to make it safe.  A reliable gas fume detector is one element necessary to make boats safe.  A warming alarm would likely have saved a life and prevented injury to the victims in last weekends boating accident in Erie.

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