Tragedies happen when we least expect them. Earlier this winter four recent high school graduates of New Trier High School perished in a canoe accident on an icy Wisconsin lake. The canoe apparently capsized on Mill Lake in East Troy, Wisconsin, according to Patch News. Alcohol may have been a contributing factor to the accident. The purpose of the boating trip was to visit a friend’s house on Lake Beulah, 35 miles southeast of Milwaukee. Jason Roberts of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported that during the investigation and search for the four bodies, “From across the bay they could see an overturned canoe. Everyone had been drinking at the house and there was no evidence the young men took life jackets with them on the canoe. At this time there is no reason to believe foul play was involved.” The frigid temperature of the water and the ice-choked lake made for nearly impossible survival odds.
Drinking Involved in Majority of Drowning Accidents
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol was the single largest contributing factor to drownings in 2014 for recreational boating accidents. It was involved in 277 accidents and 108 deaths. Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, and excessive speed all ranked higher in the total number of accidents they each produced, but none compared to alcohol in the number of direct fatalities that it causes on the open water.
Alcohol slows the senses, which can cause the initial crash, person overboard, or capsize. Secondly, alcohol greatly impairs a person’s ability to swim or stay afloat once they are in the water. Drowning can happen in a matter of seconds, especially when other boat members are also intoxicated and can neither perform a quick rescue but are also unable to quickly perform emergency CPR. While this particular Wisconsin investigation is still pending at the time of writing, alcohol may have played a large roll in why the canoe capsized. Because it is suspected that none of the drowning victims were wearing lifejackets, they would not have been able to stay above water for long due to the intense cold, which sucks energy at an alarming rate.
In small boat accidents, drowning is by far the primary way in which victims perish, and in the majority of those drowning cases, the victims were not wearing life jackets: of 418 drownings in 2014, only 64 people were wearing life jackets (just 15%). While hypothermia is not a leading cause of death (there were only five reported deaths caused by hypothermia) it can often be a contributing factor. Often in fatal accidents, there is a cascading effect of poor decision making. While each minor mistake or poor decision may be relatively harmless on its own, when they are compounded, they can mount into a catastrophe that ends in tragedy. If you were injured in a boating accident, or a loved one lost their life, due to no fault of your own, such as the operator of a motor boat causing an accident while intoxicated, you may be able to receive compensation from that negligent party. Contact an experienced watercraft accident attorney today to learn more about your legal options.
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