Boating Accident Liability: When to Sue for Wrongful Death? 

Boats, many of which lack brakes, seat belts, and airbags, can be just as dangerous as cars. And a recent lawsuit in Washington details just how dangerous they can be.

The surviving family members of a man who drowned in a boating accident at Lake Coeur d’Alene last summer claim the man piloting another boat wasn’t paying attention after dark and plowed right through a stationary boat, killing three people. The wrongful death lawsuit also claims the man behind the wheel, Dennis Magner, lied to investigators about who was driving at the time of the crash.

Right of Way on the Water

Boating accidents are, tragically, easily avoidable. Boating sober, within posted speed limits, and only in safe weather conditions can prevent most boating accidents. And keeping a close eye out for other boaters is absolutely essential.

Justin Lurh and two of his friends were drifting in a stationary boat when Magner’s Mastercraft collided with it last August, according to the lawsuit. The impact threw the three men into the water, where they drowned. Boating law requires moving boats to yield to stationary boats, and the lawsuit alleges Magner’s boat was up on a plane at the time of the crash.

“[W]hat we’re looking at is that it was a head-on collision,” said Kootenai County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Stu Miller, while investigating the crash. “The bows of both boats came into contact with each other.”

Lake Liability

There are generally three main elements to a successful wrongful death suit:

The death of a human being;
The death was caused by another’s negligence, or intent to cause harm; and
The survival of family members suffering monetary injury as a result of the death.

Justin Lurh left behind a wife and two children, and Bill Gilbert, the attorney representing them, believes Magner was negligent the night of the accident. “They weren’t out there paying attention, worried they might run into somebody,” Gilbert told Spokane’s KXLY. “Again, it was after dark. They probably didn’t think anybody was on the water. But you still have to pay attention, especially after dark.”

The Lurh’s lawsuit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages to compensate for Justin’s death.