Estate of McFarlin v. State – Boat Accident Death of Child Spurs Lawsuit Against State

Boating accidents in North Carolina inevitably spike in summertime. There are simply more boats on the water. But that is not to say these injuries and deaths are inevitable. In fact, most are avoidable with proper precaution. boats

The 2015 Report of Boating Accidents and Fatalities by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission indicates there were 166 boating accidents in the state last year, including 21 fatal accidents. There were also nearly 375,000 registered vessels that year. Interestingly, the number of registered vessels was down slightly from 380,000 in 2014, even though the number of total boating accidents rose from 130. It was the first time boating accidents went up since 2004. There were 215 and 217 boating accidents in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

When boating accidents do occur, it can leave victims and loved ones reeling, unsure of who may be held responsible. The recent Iowa wrongful death case of Estate of McFarlin v. State illustrates how many entities may be involved and the difficulties in bringing action against the government in such cases. 

According to court records, it was Memorial Day weekend 2010 when a man took his girlfriend fishing on a lake. They drove to the lake in a pickup truck, hauling the 18-foot, six-seater boat that boasts a top speed of 50 mph. They launched the boat around 9:30 a.m. Like others who use the lake, they paid no boater fee.

The man operated the boat with his five passengers, which included his girlfriend’s 10-year-old son. He was aware there was ongoing dredging at the lake. He left the no-wake zone traveling faster than 30 mph. A couple in another vessel reportedly signaled at him to slow down, but he didn’t see them. He fast approached several buoys that warned of a dredge pipe. The operator was reportedly confused as to where the pipes were and steered between two buoys at 30 mph. He saw the dredge pipe seconds before he ran over it, flipping the boat. The 10-year-old was killed when the propeller landed in the passenger compartment and struck him.

The boy’s estate sued the boyfriend, the boat manufacturer and the entities that operated and marked the dredge. All those entities settled, including the boat manufacturer settlement for $1.2 million.

A wrongful death lawsuit against the marina was dismissed because it had no control over the lake.

Plaintiff also sued the state. The allegation was the department of natural resources was liable for the accident because it employed the dredge operator. There had been at least two other reports of boaters hitting submerged dredge pipes, and the city was responsible for warning boaters about the underwater pipes. Further, the city had made adjustments after the accident, including adding small orange intermediate markers to ensure boaters knew where the dredge pipe was.

The state argued it was not liable based on discretionary function immunity. That is, it was to the discretion of government employees where those markers were placed, so the state could not be responsible. Further, the state argued the public duty doctrine applied and there wasn’t any private cause of action. Trial court agreed and the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed. The state high court ruled that plaintiffs can’t bring common law tort claims against the state per the public duty doctrine and the statutory authority of the state to maintain public land and waters did not imply a private right to sue.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Estate of McFarlin v. StateJune 17, 2016, Iowa Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

A.H. v. Midwest Bus Sales, Inc. – Bus Accident Manufacturer Liability, June 4, 2016, Carolina Boat Accident Attorney Blog

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