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Boat Accidents: Too Many Passengers Mean Too Much Danger
The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court has ruled that a lawsuit accusing the State of New York of wrongfully allowing too many passengers on a tour boat can proceed to trial. The tour boat capsized on a lake in 2005 killing 20 passengers and seriously injuring several others. Twenty-seven victims’ families later sued the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which had inspected the boat annually since 1979 and certified the tour boat could carry up to 48 people.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the tragedy and found that the boat should not have had more than 14 passengers and blamed the accident on the boat’s instability. Lawyers for the surviving family members moved to eliminate the state’s defense that it could not be held liable due to sovereign immunity. In general, state employees are generally shielded from legal liability when working within their discretion.
Now, the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court has found that the state was not immune to being sued in the tour boat case because its employees showed no discretion during its annual inspections.
As Chicago and South Chicago personal injury attorneys for over 25 years we have handled multiple injuries and wrongful death accidents suffered by passengers of over-loaded boats. These vessels are dangerously subject to capsizing. The passengers are left without enough lifejackets and their chances for recovery without injury or death greatly diminished. Liability in private boat accidents has been a simpler issue when the owner has disregarded the passenger limits. The same can be said of privately operated tour boats. The discussion occurring in New York now raises the issue of State complicity where the state improperly certifies the capacity of a boat. This ruling could have implications for both private and state or agency run boats. We will be monitoring this case for application to Illinois boat accidents. Please watch for our commentary at LinkedIn and at our website. John Grazian may also field some of these issues at WCIU, You ad Me in the Morning and on Twitter at GrazianTalksLaw.