Boating on lakes can be a risky proposition, even if you are not on the lake. If you loan your boat to another person and he causes a boating accident, you could be on the hook and possibly lose everything you own (that is not exempt property).
Last weekend, on a Saturday night at 6:22 pm, a 38-year-old Oklahoma City man was killed and four other passengers were seriously injured in a fatal hit-and-run boat collision on Lake Eufaula in Oklahoma.
The killed and seriously injured passengers were in a 2002 Sea Ray boat that was stopped on the lake when a 2003 Cobalt, allegedly operated by a 20-year-old driver, hit the Sea Ray from behind and fled the scene. The Cobalt was later found at a boat slip on Lake Eufaula and seized by the lake patrol after getting a search warrant.
Why did the driver of the Cobalt boat flee the scene after causing fatal and serious injuries? Would any moral, innocent, or well-intentioned driver of a boat flee the scene of a boating collision and not stop to check on the welfare of the passengers? Time will tell, but since it was Labor Day Weekend, I would not be surprised to see drinking was involved. Perhaps the alleged driver of the Cobalt, who was not of legal age to drink, thought he would get in less trouble if blood alcohol tests were not submitted until he had a day to get the alcohol out of his system.
It is doubtful a 20-year-old driver could afford to own a 2003 Cobalt. Depending on the model, these boats can sell for much more than $100,000.00.
Who is going to pay for the medical bills of the four seriously injured passengers, who are still in the hospital? Who is going to pay for the loss of life for the 38 year old man, who may have a wife and kids to support? It is doubtful a 20-year-old person has much to his name.
In Oklahoma, there is still hope that there will be a source to pay the bills, loss of income, loss of life, and other damages.
First, most expensive boats carry liability insurance, which will most certainly be exhausted. I know on my cabin cruiser boat I keep slipped at Lake Texoma in Oklahoma, I carry $300,000 of liability coverage. That amount would not be near enough to pay for all of the damages in the boating accident at Lake Eufaula. I also carry an excess umbrella policy which adds $1,000,000 of liability coverage, but it is questionable whether said coverage would apply to a person that is loaned the boat. It depends on the policy terms and whether the person that was loaned the boat would fall under the definition of "insured."
Can the injured persons and family of the deceased sue the owner of the boat, even if the owner was nowhere near the lake when the accident happened? In Oklahoma, the answer if YES. Oklahoma law (63 O.S. Section 4215) clearly states:
"The owner of a vessel shall be liable for any injury or damage occasioned by the negligent operation of such vessel, whether such negligence consists of a violation of the provisions of the statutes of this state, or the violation of any municipal ordinance, or neglecting to observe such ordinary care and such operation as the rules of the common law require. The owner shall not be liable, however, unless such vessel is being used with his express or implied consent. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to relieve any other person from any liability which he would otherwise have."
Thus, if you lend your boat to a person and he causes serious injuries and/or death due to driving your boat and causing a collision, and a jury determines the damages to be, for example, $2,000,000.00, and you only have $300,000.00 of liability coverage, you would be responsible for writing a check to the injured parties for the difference ($1,700,000.00).
The boating tragedy in Oklahoma over Labor Day weekend will not only cause great damage to the serious injured persons and the family of the deceased, but the owner of the Cobalt who lent the boat to the 20-year-old driver could possibly lose financially everything. Unless new evidence comes out to the contrary, it appears that the 20-year-old driver is probably looking at jail time for a long time to come. Unfortunately, it is unlikely the young driver has any assets to pay for the damage to the injured persons and family of the deceased.