A rental company in Ocean City, Maryland has been charged on multiple counts for its role in a fatal boating accident that occurred in August of 2016. According to a January 18, 2017 report in the Maryland Coast Dispatch, a boy died after he fell from the bow of a rented pontoon boat and was struck by the vessel’s propeller blades. Criminal charges were not announced until months after the incident because authorities were reviewing the evidence, speaking with witnesses, and investigating various factors that may have contributed to the accident. However, timing is critical in a Maryland personal injury case, so victims and their loved ones must act quickly after an incident involving negligence.


Details of the Incident


The accident occurred around 3 p.m. on August 17, 2016. The victim’s family had rented a pontoon boat from a local charter operation near Sinepunxent Bay, which lies just south of the Ocean City Inlet. The group of 17 people was cruising near the northern end of Assateague State Park, and the boy was sitting on the bow of the boat with three other people, dangling their feet over the edge. According to witnesses, he lost his balance and fell into the water. The boat continued its forward motion with the boy underneath, and he was struck by the moving propeller.


Family members pulled the injured boy out of the water, and were met by a group of first responders that just happened to be enjoying the afternoon on a tour boat nearby. Two nurses, an emergency medical technician, and two state troopers provided assistance but were unable to revive the boy. He died from his injuries later at a local hospital.


While alcohol and speed were discounted as factors in the accident, authorities pointed to other details that may have contributed. The boy was not wearing a life jacket and was riding on the bow of the boat at the time, both of which are violations of Maryland’s boating regulations. In addition, the 17 passengers aboard the pontoon may have been over the limit for the vessel. The presence of these factors points to negligence by the rental company, and eventually led to criminal charges.


Charges Filed After Investigation


The Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) is tasked with investigating boating accidents, so authorities began looking into the circumstances surrounding the incident immediately. Five months after the tragedy, NRP applied to the Worcester County court to request criminal charges against the rental company and its owner. Two may be direct or indirect causes of the accident.


  • Failure to Keep Proper Equipment – Capacity Plate: All vessels operating on the state’s navigable waters must post a maximum capacity plate indicating the passenger limit. The pontoon rented to the victim’s family did not have the capacity plate affixed, so it is unclear whether the 17 passengers aboard were above the maximum limit and, therefore, unsafe.

  • Failure to Keep Proper Equipment – Personal Flotation Devices: At all times, a boat must have enough personal flotation devices for every passenger on board. The type and weight capacity must be appropriate for each passenger, i.e., an adult cannot be assigned a PFD that would not accommodate his or her weight. Inflatable flotation devices do not legally qualify. According to authorities, the boat carrying the victim and other passengers only had 15 PFDs on board, so the craft was short by two.


Time is a Factor in Personal Injury Lawsuits


Officials waited until they had enough evidence to support charges against the pontoon rental company and its owner, but criminal cases are quite different from personal injury lawsuits. Timing is critical in civil matters and any delays can be detrimental to the case. There are a number of reasons that you should take action and consult with an attorney right away if you have been injured in an accident.


Statute of Limitations


Maryland law includes a provision known as a statute of limitations on personal injury cases. A lawsuit must be filed within three years from the date an incident occurs that causes injury or death. If a case is not initiated within this time period, the action is forever barred. When you consider that you may be in prolonged settlement negotiations with an insurance company and/or the responsible party, this three-year statute of limitations can pass quickly.


Preservation of Evidence


Timing is also critical as it relates to gathering evidence to support a personal injury case. Certain factors that were present at the scene of an accident may cease to exist or lose integrity over time. For instance, tire skid marks that can be used as proof of a motorist’s negligence may fade due to weather and other conditions. By acting right away and capturing photo evidence, it is possible to preserve this key evidence.


Victim and Witness Recollection


Testimony from a victim and witnesses carries considerable weight in a personal injury case. The problem is that, over time, a person’s recollection of the events leading up to an incident can fade. For this reason, it is important to obtain statements as soon as possible after an accident, preserving that potential testimony in case it is needed at trial.


Authorities may take months to complete an investigation and bring criminal charges in an accident involving negligence, such as the one involving the boy in Ocean City, Maryland. However, in civil matters, parties must take action right away if there are grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. Time is of the essence due to the statute of limitations, and because it is necessary to gather evidence and testimony while the information is still intact.

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